Kate’s Review: “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America”

34690722Book: “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The #1 New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang continues his first original series at DC with NEW SUPER-MAN VOL. 2!  To uncover the truth behind his mother’s murder, the New Super-Man must reawaken his full power under the tutelage of the mysterious I-Ching! But as training begins, Kong Kenan’s ego isn’t the only thing taking a beating! Plus, a shocking and deadly betrayal lurks in the shadows of the school that trained the New Bat-Man of China! Award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, SUPERMAN) and on-the-rise art star Viktor Bogdanovic (BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT) continue their celebrated run on the hit new series NEW SUPER-MAN. Collects issues #7-12.

Review: It’s been awhile, but we’re diving back into graphic novels. I neglected to check back in on the “New Super-Man” stories by Gene Luen Yang for a long time, and by the time I did there were two volumes out, much to my excitement (and guilt that I’d waited so long). I know that while I am a DC Fan Girl I tend to come down on them when it comes to their Rebirth on going series, but “New Super-Man” is one that I’ve greatly enjoyed with little to no complaints. I chalk that up to Gene Luen Yang being excellent, but also to DC being willing to give him the room and trust to tell the story he wants to tell in the way he wants to tell it. When we last saw our flawed but intrepid hero Kong Kenan, China’s answer to Superman in the Justice League of China, has lost his father, and wants to know who killed his parents (as he was told his mother died in a plane crash years before). I was definitely anxious to see where Yang was going to take his characters, as not only are we following Kenan, but also Wang Baixi (Bat-Man), and Peng Delian (Wonder-Woman), both of whom I had grown QUITE fond of.

I don’t know what took me so damn long to get back to this series, because the moment I picked up “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” I was yanked right back into this creative and deeply engrossing world that Yang has created. Kenan remains incredibly flawed, which is a really intriguing counterpart to the original Superman, as Clark is basically a boy scout. Now he’s driven by grief and  the need to find out who has destroyed his family, and his impulsiveness is more understandable, but also amped up. What I think is MOST interesting about Kenan as a protagonist is that he isn’t terribly likable, but you root for him anyway, and you get to see him evolve into a better person. In this series he has to tamper down his impulsiveness and start to train to try and tap into all of his powers, and his impatience is in direct conflict with that training. It’s going to be quite the journey for him. Especially since he’s going to learn some disturbing and hard truths about what ACTUALLY happened to his mother, and then later his father. We ended on a HUGE cliffhanger in this regard, and it will be VERY interesting to see where this is going to go from here.

We also get to see some new information about Baixi and how he became Bat-Man. Turns out, he was part of an extensive training program, as he was picked the best choice from a number of candidates who were also training. Going back to that group proves to be a bit more confrontational that Baixi anticipated. I really enjoyed learning more about his home life, especially about his relationship with his little sister Jiali, who serves as a foil that I am REALLY hoping we see more of. But it’s Delian’s story that reiterates the uniqueness of this series. A fair amount of Delian’s background, like Diana’s, is based in folklore and mythology (though this time Chinese as opposed to Greek). I don’t really want to spoil it, but what I will say is that it takes influence from the Legend of the White Snake. The parallels of origins for Delian to her counterpart was a really neat surprise, given that Kenan and Baixi have very different origins to theirs, and it made her feel all the more special as a character. Using this myth is just one of the ways that Yang brings forth and showcases the Chinese culture, bringing a voice and representation to readers who have grown up within it. At the same time he makes this culture and experience accessible and relatable to those who have not grown up within it, and does it by blending it in with a somewhat familiar superhero story. That is why to me “New Super-Man” is one of the most important titles that DC has going on right now, because lord knows comics need more representation.

On top of the original content, in this collection The Justice League of China finds itself intermingling with familiar faces and places. That’s right, mega businessman and always shady Lex Luthor has entered into the picture, cozying up to The Justice League of China and taking advantage of Kenan’s vulnerable emotional state. God that Lex is such a bastard but I’m always SO happy to see him. And not only that. We go to Metropolis, which means we get a cameo from Superman himself!!! Seeing Clark and Kenan interact was such a joy, as Kenan is a total fan boy and Clark is ever so kind and patient.

supers
(Source: DC Comics)

“New Super-Man: Coming to America” keeps this unique and compelling series on a steady and satisfying path, and if you haven’t already checked it out I implore you to do so. Gene Luen Yang is a treasure and this series needs to be spared from hasty decisions that DC tends to make with the titles that I find most important.

Rating 8: This series continues to combine similar themes from Superman with a new take on the superhero.

Reader’s Advisory:

“New Super-Man (Vol. 2): Coming to America” is not on any Goodreads lists (FOR SHAME), but I think that it would fit in on “Asian Fantasy and Science Fiction”, and “Comic Creators of Color”.

Find “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “New Super-Man (Vol.1): Made in China”

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “Someone Like Me”

Woman wearing a red hoodie by a riverBook: “Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher and received an eARC by NetGalley.

Book Description: SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.

Review: Thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy of this book, and to NetGalley for sending me an eARC!

M.R. Carey has taken some of the most beloved, and therefore most overdone, tropes in the horror genre and breathed new life into them. In “The Girl With All The Gifts” and “The Boy on the Bridge” he took the idea of a zombie apocalypse and gave it a unique and fresh perspective (zombies because of fungus? Totally awesome!). In “Fellside” he took a gothic haunted house story and set it in a women’s prison, therein bringing isolation to a whole new level. So of course when I found out that he’d written a new book called “Someone Like Me”, and that it sounded like a new take on a possession tale, I was in. If I’m going to like a possession story you basically have to do something new with it, and I knew that M.R. Carey was up to the task. And not only did Carey bring a new and fresh perspective to a well worn trope, he also brought in very real life horrors into the thematics, like trauma and domestic abuse. And because of this, “Someone Like Me” is his best work yet.

The summary focuses on Liz Kendall, so I will start with her and who she is as a character. Liz is meek and demure, a woman who suffered at the hands of her now ex-husband Marc. Liz had been a vibrant young punk singer, but when she got together with Marc his years of abuse and cruelty wore her down. So while one might think that she just snapped one night, and fought back after he was attacking her, Liz is horrified to realize that she had absolutely no control over herself in that moment. It was as if someone else was controlling her actions. So what could have been a story about a run of the mill demonic possession is more of a psychological terror: is Liz possessed, or is she traumatized to the point where she’s disassociating? Both options are completely plausible, and while it becomes clear that there is an outside force that is working within her, Carey STILL brings in enough unreliability and unanswered questions that I was kept completely gripped and enthralled. Seeing Liz battle with an angrier, more violent, and yet just as tragic, version of herself was unnerving and unsettling, and I loved seeing this Thing slowly overtake her life and personality.

But Liz is only half the story. Well, a fourth of the story, really. Because there is another primary character in this book whom I wasn’t expecting, but loved just as much, and that is Fran. Fran is a teenage girl who goes to school with Liz’s son Zac, and she has experienced her own traumatic incident. After this incident, she began hallucinating things around her, seeing things that others couldn’t see, seeing details shift just a little bit. She has also gained an ‘imaginary friend’ named Jinx, who has taken the form of a fox character from a children’s show. Fran sees Jinx as a protector and a burden, as while Fran wants to get better and get closer to others, Jinx is wary of anyone who comes near them. I really enjoyed seeing Fran get closer to Zac, and how her own unique psychological (or not) situation compared to Liz’s. It was also really interesting to see Carey slowly start to connect them, and to build a whole new mythology that I didn’t see coming at all. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it, because I think that it’s best to go in without knowing, but I will say that it went in directions that I couldn’t have anticipated and did so successfully.

I also really liked how Carey framed this story through the idea of trauma and tragedy. All of our main players who have perspective chapters (and there are four in total) are well rounded and well written, and all function through various horrific things that happened to them and made them who they are. I really appreciate Carey pointing out that sometimes things and people we perceive as monsters or monstrous are that way because of the horrible things that have happened to them. But he also makes sure to point out that just because horrible things did happen to them, and that it IS awful that these things did happen, that it doesn’t give anyone license to do horrible things to other people.

“Someone Like Me” was a tense and emotional read, and if you are a fan of M.R. Carey you should absolutely go grab this. If you haven’t read anything by Carey yet, this is the perfect place to start.

And I have good news! I’m giving away a hardcover copy of this book! The giveaway ends November 20th, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Click Here To Enter The Giveaway!

Rating 8: A smart and tense psychological thriller, “Someone Like Me” not only brings the creeps, but also brings emotions with themes such as trauma and abuse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Someone Like Me” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists right now, but I think that it would fit in on “Fictional Multiple Personalities”.

Find “Someone Like Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories”

34550918Book: “Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories” by Brian Coldrick

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A twisted figure crawling out of a tunnel. A giggling crowd of masked watchers. A reassembling corpse. What could be behind you, just waiting for you to turn around? Behind You is an illustration series, a comic with no panels, where each piece is essentially a separate story. Each tale is one image and one piece of text; an unsuspecting victim with someone, or something, behind them. Entries range from the amusingly weird to the genuinely unsettling. Inspired by spooky films, books, myths, and internet tall tales, Behind You is full of scary set-ups but leaves lots of blanks for the reader to fill in with their own narrative. Includes an Introduction by New York Times Best-Seller Joe Hill.

Review: Halloween is next week, readers, and that means that this year’s Horrorpalooza will be coming to an end after the next “Fear Street” post. While you’ll still be getting an influx of horror stories in the coming weeks, given that I have plenty of reading I haven’t even addressed yet, I wanted to save one of the most unique and fun horror reads for the week before the highest of high holidays in my mind. And “Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories” is absolutely unique, and one of the most creative horror reads I’ve read in a long while. Brian Coldrick’s stories got their start on Tumblr, and though I left that platform long ago I will say that you can find some really awesome blogs and websites on there that showcase some really great art and creativity, and “Behind You” is a great example of that.

Coldrick’s stories are minimalist in some ways, and yet very detailed in others. They are one frame and one image (they move on Tumblr, and alas they do not on the pages of this book), and that image tells a story that can range from simply unnerving to full blown nightmare fuel. The image also gives the reader a lot of leeway to create their own context and background. Is this person waiting in an alley meeting a friend? A lover? Family? Who used to live in this house and why is it that there are all these twisted silhouettes on the walls? I like the freedom that this gave me, and it also made it so I would linger on the page a bit longer than I might have were I just reading a single panel that had all the answers. It reminds me of a visual version of the classic Hemingway minimal story “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”, as in such little space you get such vibrant and clear cut stories.

The design of the panels in this book also really elevated the stories, and I liked the wide range of stories that these single panels told. There are numerous protagonists and antagonists, and they all seem pretty original and unique in their designs. The style reminds me of a mix between Edward Gorey and a New Yorker cartoon, and that lends both a creep factor and kind of a cute quirkiness as well. Given that this book is a collection of various narratives, all separate from each other (except for a running panel of a figure being followed by a ghost that pops up occasionally throughout), there isn’t much to say in terms of content. So instead, I will include a few of the panels so they can speak for themselves.

behind-you-17-prints_brian-coldrick
(source)
behind-you-24-prints_brian-coldrick
(source)
behind-you-14-prints_brian-coldrick
This is my personal favorite (source)

I do think that there is something lost when the images don’t move, like a number of them do on the Tumblr blog. There are a few that could work either way, but some really are more effective with slight and uncanny movements. That said, I do think that there is something to be said for just being able to sit down and page through a bound copy of these panels and stories. I think there’s something a little more tactile in that, especially if you are wanting to sit down on a creepy autumn night and give yourself a case of the willies.

“Behind You” was an enjoyable read for an autumn night, and I think that the best way to experience it would be with a cup of cocoa, bundled up in a blanket, and trying not to notice the shadows outside or on the walls of your home.

Rating 8: A quick and creepy read with stories told in a unique way, “Behind You” is a great book to pick up this Halloween!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Behind You” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists (perhaps due to it’s uniqueness?), but I think that it would fit in on “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Most Terrifying Short Stories”.

Find “Behind You” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review and Giveaway: “Muse of Nightmares”

25446343Book: “Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Previously Reviewed: “Strange the Dreamer”

Review: While I loved “Strange the Dreamer” with its unique world, beautiful prose, and well-drawn characters, it did commit one of the biggest sins in the book: ending on a horrible cliff-hanger! Why?! Why would you do this?! But, unlike certain other books that Kate and I reviewed recently, cough”Career of Evil”cough, there was only a short, year-long wait before the follow up story was released. I guess that makes it ok. Doesn’t hurt that the sequel was a blast to read on its own, even after tackling the immediate issue left by the cliffhanger.

Lazlo has discovered that he is a God. And not only any ole God, but one of the most rare and powerful with the ability to manipulate the strange blue metal that makes up the godspawns’ home. But power isn’t everything, and Sarai is still dead, even if her being has mostly been saved in the form of one of Minya’s ghosts. And Minya has her own plans for life going forward, ones that distinctly feature revenge and the use of Lazlo’s abilities to achieve it. However, soon, thoughts of revenge begin to subside when all involved realize how small their scope of past events has really been and how much more is truly at stake.

One of the strongest points of all of Taylor’s books is her lyrical manner of writing. That talent is put to good use here and the beautiful imagery continues. However, the topic and storyline of this book is much more action-oriented and in many ways darker in theme. While the first book spent much of its time establishing Strange as a dreamer and exploring Sarai’s abilities, painting lush landscapes with words. Here, Taylor’s gorgeous prose instead speaks to the pain and heartache that is at the core of so many of our characters and how they approach the world they now find themselves in.

Lazlo and Sarai, our main characters from the first book, largely subside into the background in this one, which came as a complete surprise to me. I don’t want to misrepresent the book, as they still narrate a large portion of the story and their romance is still heavily focused upon. However, for me, I found other characters quickly rising to the forefront of my interest.

Minya, in particular, comes to mind. We briefly explored her experiences in the first book, but here we learn that we had only scraped the surface. Not only are past events expanded upon, but we learn more about her own motivations and the mysteries of her being. Why has she remained a child? What drives the seemingly bottomless well of darkness within her and how does her power truly work? There were several great reveals with this character and in many ways I think she has a greater depth of character built for her than Lazlo and Sarai who have a tendency to fall into the rather generic hero category. We know what to expect from them: they’re good people who want to do good things. Minya is much more complicated, and in that way, I found her much more interesting.

There are also two sisters whose stories are introduced. They live in a far away world, and it is only slowly revealed throughout the story how these disconnected bits make up the history of Lazlo and Sarai’s world. I, of course, love stories about sisterhood, so I was all over this arc of a deep bond that drives two sisters to achieve the impossible. And even here, nothing is made simple, easy, or predictable. There is tragedy, confusion, anger, and, of course, a boundless love and loyalty.

This takes me to a few of my criticisms for the book. As I said, other characters (Minya, the sisters, Thyon Fane, etc.) largely took over my interest in this book and while I still enjoyed Lazlo and Sarai, I was much less intrigued by their romance in this go-around. So much of the first book was devoted to establishing their connection that I guess I would have just been fine mostly leaving it at that. I’m guessing this will be an unpopular opinion, as I know many fans of Taylor’s work read her for the beautiful romances. And I still enjoyed it. But given the depth and scope of the larger topics at hand (topics such as revenge, forgiveness, self-identity and discovery), reading more scenes of their ongoing romance taking place in mystical dream-scapes just seemed to interrupt the flow and left me anxious to return to the more serious subjects at hand.

From there, I also continued to struggle to connect to the other godspawn. There were a few whiffs of dialogue here and there that rang a bit too “twee” or “pixy dream girl” esque from these areas. As a fan of Taylor’s writing, I could recognize some of these beats from characters who filled similar roles in her other books, but that recognition just made them fall all the more flat here, as I was never able to fully understand Ruby, Sparrow or Feral as unique characters in their own right.

But, to end on a positive note, for fans of Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series, there are some really incredible tie-ins to be found in this book that took my completely by surprise. Readers by no means need to be familiar with that series, but it’s a great connection for those of us who have read those books.

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of this book, and now I want to give it away to you! The giveaway ends on October 31 and is open to US residents only.

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Rating 8: “Muse of Nightmares” expands upon its predecessor by leaps and bounds, exploring complicated and deep topics of revenge, loyalty, and self-created identity.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Muse of Nightmares” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Quality YA Paranormal Romance Novels” and “Consider it NA.”

Find “Muse of Nightmares” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “S.T.A.G.S.”

35248505We 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: “S.T.A.G.S.” by M.A. Bennett

Publishing Info: Penguin Teen, January 2018

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

Genre Mash-Up: “Satire” and “School Story”

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.

Kate’s Thoughts

Yes, I did read and review this back at the beginning of the year. But when my genre mash-up came up in our Book Club drawing, I thought that perhaps “S.T.A.G.S.” should get a revisit through the lens of pure satire as opposed to teenage thriller. I thought that it was really just going to meet the requirements for our book club, but then something  happened that brought it into a new focus: Brett Kavanaugh was nominated and confirmed for the Supreme Court, in spite of the fact that he was accused of attempted rape by a classmate from high school (not to mention a whole slew of other issues), with many people saying that his Yale credentials and good background meant that he couldn’t POSSIBLY be a sexual predator. All of a sudden, a book about privileged wealthy kids at a private school stepping on the less fortunate, all because they CAN, felt incredibly, incredibly relevant, and it caused my opinions of this book to evolve a bit.

So re-reading “S.T.A.G.S.” with these events in mind made it a sobering experience. This time, seeing Greer, Chanel, and Shafeen have to contend with the Medievals and their cat and mouse nonsense made me look a bit deeper into how this could be satirical as opposed to straight up survival YA popcorn. Seeing the action unfold again with a different lens made it a more chilling read, and my eyes were more eager to spot the little moments, be it when Greer is more willing to believe her rich, white counterparts over Shafeen in spite of damning evidence of wrongdoing, or presumptions that both Greer AND Nel have about Shafeen based on his heritage.

As satire I do think that it can be heavy handed at times, but over all I think that it works effectively. High school is always ripe for the picking when it comes to satirical possibilities, though it’s not as often you see it unfold in full on violence, though that’s probably more due to actual violence in schools being far too prevalent as opposed to creators not thinking about it. “S.T.A.G.S.” manages to tread a good line in making the points it wants to make, while still managing to mostly punch up. I enjoyed reading it again with these themes in mind.

Serena’s Thoughts

I was excited to read this book when Kate said it would be our next bookclub pick. While not falling in my typical genre of reads, I had had it on my own personal reading list for a while. I like survival stories in general (though I’m often overtaken with judgement about plausibility and stupid choices, but that’s half the fun!) and I remember one of my favorite projects in highschool English had to do with re-creating scenes and a map (which I hand drew and was very proud of) for “The Most Dangerous Game.” So yes, in many ways this was right up my alley.

As Kate discussed, this also came at a pretty rough period in American politics so many of its themes struck a more somber note than they may have reading outside of the current environment. I liked a lot of the more up-front points being made about uber wealth and privilege as well as some of the more subtle comments that Kate alluded to. I would be curious to see how this story read in Great Britain which has a much longer history and different understanding of the type of class system on display here. American readers simply don’t have this type of background to layer onto our reading of this story and, even while I still was able to appreciate many of its larger point, I feel like some of these shades of criticism and even comprehension were lost on U.S. readers.

I very much liked our main character Greer. There were a few moments here and there  where her plethora of cultural references could have been a bit much, but over all, I was so involved in the story and on-board with her character that I don’t think these distracted overly much. And there were a few key ones that really struck home with how a fan of media (movies, books, etc) would relate a new situation/scene to something they’ve read or seen in a film. And while there were definite moments where I wanted to shake her out of some of her more stupid decisions, overall she read as a very realistic protagonist. For the most part, she is clever and discerning, so her moments of weakness read as very believable. I mean, c’mon, it IS an unbelievable situation! Doubting their suspicions only makes sense.

My one criticism of the book had to do with the violence and introduction of the story. No, it wasn’t too much for a young adult novel. If anything, it felt too PG. I kept waiting for something truly terrible (in a life-ending way) to happen, but instead, all of the action and violence felt a bit toothless. In particular, there is one event that Greer references right in the beginning of the book, so the entire story is building towards it, supposedly. And then we get there and…it is not at all that thing. And even after the event, Greer insists on referring to it as her original concept, and I was just like “but…but…IT’S NOT THAT!” I don’t think this would have annoyed me so much if it hadn’t been for the fact that readers are teased about this event for the entire story. And then when this misdirection is combined with the relatively tame action of the story, it just felt like a bit of a let down.

But overall, I still very much enjoyed this book and it was a nice excuse to venture outside of my typical reading boundaries.

Kate’s Rating 8: “S.T.A.G.S.” held up pretty well the second time through, and reading it this time I was more in tune with the satirical elements about the haves subjugating the have nots, and how systems (as well as the compliance of other have nots) help them escape consequences.

Serena’s Rating 8: A stellar main character makes up for a few weaknesses as far as plotting and action.

Book Club Questions

  1. I picked “S.T.A.G.S.” for this book club choice because my theme was satire meets a school story. Do you think that the satire (of the wealthy privileged literally hunting the less fortunate) is effective?
  2. One of the biggest themes in this book is about privilege, and how those with it exploit and victimize those that don’t. How did Shafeen, Greer, and Nel’s interactions with the medievals and each other come off? So you think that these three had some privileges that others didn’t?
  3. What do you think Bennett was trying to say with Greer’s hesitance to believe that the Medievals were up to no good in spite of the evidence presented to her? Why do you think that she was more susceptible to believe the best of them as opposed to Nel and Shafeen (outside of her crush on Henry, that is)?
  4. Shafeen made up a story about feeding at a tiger’s tit to take the attention off of Nel, but tells Greer that he doesn’t live in a palace but is actually from a bustling city (though he does have royal roots). Why do you think he made up a story like that instead of telling a true story from his youth.
  5. What did you make of the Medievals rejection of technology and their categories of Medieval vs Savage? Do you think that Henry had a point about the ills of the internet?
  6. At the end it is revealed that even though Greer, Shafeen, and Nel have become the new prefects/medievals, the Abbot has been shielding and continuing the violence without their knowledge. What did you think of that revelation?

Reader’s Advisory

“S.T.A.G.S.” is new and not included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Let The (Deadly) Games Begin!”, and  “Boarding Schools, Camps, and Private Academies”.

Find “S.T.A.G.S.” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “Career of Evil”

25735012This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we review “Career of Evil.”

Book: “Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, October 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.

Book Description: When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Serena’s Thoughts

After the first two books, I felt like I had a solid handle on the series and some pretty high expectations for its continuing trend of greatness. So, a perfect time for Galbraith to throw readers a curve ball! (Thank god, not on the “greatness” side of things, since I still loved this book).

Turns out that fame and success have a downside and it comes in the form of a leg, packaged and delivered to Robin at Strike’s private detective firm. And so starts their next mystery, tracking down three suspects whom Strike suspects capable of A.) holding a grudge against him and B.) having some affinity for body horror. But while they are working one side of the case, the killer is working on another and slowly circles closer to the very people searching for him.

Well, if I thought the last book was a turn for the darker, I was ill prepared for this one! I mean, a disembodied leg is delivered by mail right there in the beginning, so readers have a good clue going in that this will be a more gruesome story than the first book and likely the second as well. However, that’s just the start of it. This book delves into a truly depraved side of humanity, focusing mostly on violence against women committed by the men in their lives. These scenes are graphic, uncomfortable, and I’ll be honest, hard enough that I had to put the book down at times. However, as hard as some pieces were to read, Galbraith handles these topics with clarity and conciseness, never falling into the trap of “torture porn,” but instead highlighting the challenges of these types of domestic assaults, not only in their brutal form but in the restrictions and limitations of systems to deal with these types of crisis.

While we have heard a lot of about Strike’s background, his family life and his time in the military, this book really focuses in on Robin and reveals many new aspects of the character. Some scenes are, again, very challenging to read, but altogether, Robin’s story is one of a survivor, giving countless women a great character to serve as an inspiration for picking up one’s life from ashes and making it one’s own once again. There are a few particular lines of dialogue and reasoning that Robin lays out with regards to this type of violence that I believe will speak to many and give voice to underlying emotions that are familiar to those who have suffered similar experiences.

The story also changes its format in this book, with chapters alternating between Robin and Strike’s investigation, and the actions of the killer. What makes this all the more incredible is the deft way in which Galbraith weaves in little details for all three suspects that would still apply even having the voice of the killer in one of our ears already. It’s truly masterful.

The last note I will say on this book is HOLY COW, cliffhanger warning! Now, three years later and with “Lethal White” comfortably in-hand, this warning is much lighter. But at the time, this was a killer.

Kate’s Thoughts

You all know how much I love darkness in my fiction, so when “Career of Evil” involved not only murder, but also a severed leg in the post addressed for Robin, I was pretty damn excited. Ghoulish? Maybe. But it’s not as if Galbraith’s previous series hadn’t escalated in darkness as the story arc progressed. Besides, “Career of Evil” ups the stakes for both Robin AND Cormoran within the narrative. Not only does Robin receive a leg in the mail from a madman, but Cormoran thinks that he is the real target, and has three people in mind. One of whom is from a very personal and sad part of Strike’s past.

As Serena said above, we not only get Cormoran’s POV in this, we get the an expanded POV of Robin, AND the POV of the killer. While the format is a bit different from the previous books, Galbraith balances all of it with ease. Being able to get into the mind of the killer was especially interesting, and it gave a bit of method to the madness, depraved as it may have been. It absolutely ups the creep factor of this book, and explores a more visceral horror kind of mystery as opposed to the less graphic (by comparison in “The Silkworm”‘s case) whodunnits of the previous books. And what a grand mystery it is. Galbraith kept me going and kept me on my toes with the twists and turns. Everything is laid out meticulously and with great care, and the red herrings are effectively distracting just as the actual clues are easy to miss while being in plain sight. I was completely thrown for a loop with this one, and when the solution did eventually arrive I remember being gobsmacked in the best way possible.

And this is almost assuredly a turning point book for Robin in a few ways. We not only get some more background for her, but we also learn about some dark things in her past. And it’s quite dark indeed, so dark that I had a hard time reading it. Her experiences make some of the investigating within the case she and Strike are pursuing somewhat personal for her, which in turn leads to some strife and conflict down the line in how she approaches her investigation. But it never comes off as a character flaw or anything like that; on the contrary, Galbraith makes it very clear that Robin’s response is completely understandable, and never makes her seem foolish. I appreciated seeing Robin’s story, and other stories of victimization that so many people, specifically women, face. Like Serena said above, I appreciated how Robin’s background gave voice to these darker things, and that her story is relatable to those who are familiar with it.

I also liked some of the things that we learned about Cormoran in this book, mainly in regards to his mother and her death. Cormoran is convinced that she was murdered by a former husband of hers, and his attention in this case turns back on this man, Jeff Whittaker. I found this to be a way to show the long standing effects of domestic abuse, not just against the parent, but also against the child. Cormoran’s own experiences contrast to Robin’s, and it was fascinating seeing the two laid out next to each other.

“Career of Evil” is assuredly dark and twisted in some ways, but the characters at the heart of it really keep it from going into full on despair. And I second the despondence over the cliffhanger ending!!! Luckily for you new readers the newest book, “Lethal White”, is out now! So your wait will not be as long and agonizing as mine was.

Serena’s Rating 8: A very dark entry, but one that speaks to the challenges of sexual and domestic assault and the failures of our society to handle these crimes and support victims.

Kate’s Rating 8: While the content is darker the messages are important, and “Career of Evil” never quite falls into full on bleakness thanks to the continued interactions between Cormoran and Robin. Learning more about them makes this all the more rewarding.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Career of Evil” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Female Crime/Mystery/Thriller Writers” and “Thrilling Creepy Suspense.”

Find “Career of Evil” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “The Silkworm”

18214414This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we move to “The Silkworm.”

Book: “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, June 2014

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.

Book Description: When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

Serena’s Thoughts

At the start of this book, my hopes were on an upward trajectory. The first book had taken me completely by surprise with how much I loved it, especially my immediate attachment to both Strike and Robin. But how would these relationships progress and would the quality of the mystery be sustained? Given that I routinely reference the fact that, regardless of anything else, it is truly a heroic feat that Rowling managed to maintain the quality of her Harry Potter series amidst a world gone Potter-mad, this was probably a silly worry.

After the success of the Lula Landry case, Strike’s private investigation firm has taken a turn for the positive. It is made even better by the burgeoning abilities of his receptionist Robin who has proven herself more than capable of taking on a few of the investigative aspects of a case herself. However, neither are prepared for the strangeness of the mystery that arrives on their door: a reclusive author, a poisonous book, a ritualized killing, and a whole mess of suspects.

Like the first book did with its behind-the-scenes look into celebrity life and the fashion industry, this mystery delves into the seedy underbelly of the publishing world: its challenges, rivalries, and the various roles that so many play in the creation of a work of art. Within this world, we meet a whole slew of potential suspects, all with their own creepy little ties to the victim and his work. But unlike Lula, even our victim has his own sleazy connections. While the first book’s crime was fairly straightforward, this book delves into the truly disturbing aspects of a ritualized death and highlights the dark and uncomfortable versions of art (this time in the written word) that can be found in the world.

With this darker tone, it is a relief to still have Robin and Strike at the heart of the story. Their histories and ongoing struggles are slowly continuing to be padded out, as is their strengthening friendship. We even get a tense little meeting between Strike and Robin’s horrid fiance, Matthew.

The mystery itself was excellent (though I did have a better guess as to who the perpetrator could be), but its the strength of the characters that really continued to sell this series to me. That and the strong writing: Galbraith has a particular talent with dialogue that is best exemplified in exchanges between Robin/Strike and when Strike is testing the waters with new suspects.

Kate’s Thoughts

After I enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling” so much, I knew that “The Silkworm” was going to either dash my hopes for a good series, or solidify them. So when I picked it up and started reading, I was relieved to see that not only was Galbraith still going strong, but she had even taken it a few steps further in regards to complexity and darkness.

I loved the mystery at hand even more this time around for a few reasons. The first is the nature of it. What starts as a missing person’s case (when Owen Quine’s long suffering but still loyal wife approaches Strike) turns into something far darker, involving a ritualistic murder and the darker aspects of the publishing industry. Not only did I highly enjoy the fact that Galbraith had no qualms calling out a lot of the cutthroat and abusive aspects of the industry as a whole, I liked that, given how entrenched Galbraith has been in the business for a couple decades now, it felt like this portrayal had some teeth behind it. Many of the suspects are in the industry in various capacities, are skeevy in their own rights because of how they treat others and each other. Quine himself sounded like a real prick, and I liked that, unlike Lula Landry, Strike and Robin were investigating the death of someone who didn’t deserve it, per se, but was unlikable enough that it made the suspect pool that much larger since seemingly EVERYONE had a beef with him. Because of this, I was left questioning things a bit more. Plus, the murder itself was, while disturbing, incredibly creative and memorable. But it also didn’t feel like it was purely there for shock value; it manages to tie into the story at hand, and say a bit more about how others viewed Quine and the poison pen work they attributed to him. I also feel like Galbraith felt more at ease in terms of writing a full fledged mystery in “The Silkworm”. While I of course adore “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, “The Silkworm” felt like it came together more naturally with its clues and how they fit together.

And like Serena said, at the heart of this book is the friendship and working relationship between Cormoran and Robin. I loved that Robin has been given more to do since Strike has a more comfortable and trusting rapport with her, as while the ‘his girl Friday’ trope is a fun one, she really does go above and beyond it. Her passion for the work has really allowed her to grow as a person and a character, and now that she and Strike are both friends and on a more equal footing it means that their relationship just becomes all the better and more entertaining. Of course this story isn’t without some obstacles to this friendship, namely in Matthew, Robin’s sleaze of a fiancé. Matthew never quite manages to grow as a character and remains pretty two dimensional, and while sometimes I find that frustrating it actually works in this story for a couple of reasons. The first is that his inability to grow really highlights how much Robin DOES grow, which of course leads to tension between not only them, but also between Robin and Strike (though theirs is the far more enjoyable romantic type). And the second is that it is fun to have a character to hate, at least until a point, which I’m sure Serena and I will touch upon in the later books…

Overall, “The Silkworm” proves that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” wasn’t a fluke for Galbraith, and it also made it so this series became an absolute must read for me. It shows that, like the “Harry Potter” books before it, Galbraith is comfortable to push into more complex territories as her stories go on.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong sequel that turns its darker tone on the underbelly of the publishing world and the disturbing nature of art.

Kate’s Rating 8: With more complexity and a comfortable descent into darker thematics, “The Silkworm” serves as proof that Galbraith knows how to write a solid mystery with excellent characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Silkworm” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best London Mysteries”, and “Books with Disabled Protagonists”.

Find “The Silkworm” at your library using WorldCat!