Serena’s Review: “Age of Legend”

22819354Book: “Age of Legend” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Grim Oak Press, July 2019

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

Book Description: With “Age of Myth,” “Age of Swords,” and “Age of War,” fantasy master Michael J. Sullivan riveted readers with a tale of unlikely heroes locked in a desperate battle to save mankind. After years of warfare, humanity has gained the upper hand and has pushed the Fhrey to the edge of their homeland, but no farther. Now comes the pivotal moment. Persephone’s plan to use the stalemate to seek peace is destroyed by an unexpected betrayal that threatens to hand victory to the Fhrey and leaves a dear friend in peril. Her only hope lies in the legend of a witch, a forgotten song, and a simple garden door.

Previously Reviewed: “Age of Myth” , “Age of Swords” and “Age of War”

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for the first three books in this review, so reader beware!

Review: I don’t know how many ways there are to write an introductory paragraph to a series of books that you’ve been raving about the entire time. Yes, more of the same! Loved, loved, loved it! Yada yada. So without any ado for that, let’s just jump into the book summary and actual discussion!

While humankind one a massive victory in the last book, one that also cost an enormous price, the war has now been dragging on for years. Persephone and her people have slowly pushed forward, and it’s clear that they pose a real threat to the Fhrey people. This growing fear results in the leaders of the Fhrey admitting one crucial fact: regardless of the “crudeness” of the human species, they have a powerful weapon in the form of Suri, the only human so far to master the Art, and thus she must be dealt with before all else. This realization sets off a tragic chain of events that can only be stopped by another band of characters setting off on an impossible mission, this time one that leads into the very heart of the Fhrey land.

Given the dramatic events in the previous book, it was inevitable that this one would read very differently. For one, the loss of Raithe is huge. Not only do we lose the man whose actions ultimately lead to this conflict and a pretty important POV character, but he had a lot of important connections to the other characters. His loss is felt by both the reader and these other characters. I very much appreciate the fact that Sullivan picked up the story at a few different time periods. By doing this, he allowed readers an insight into the thoughts and feelings of characters into this loss over a period of time. We see the initial loss and signs of grief (anger, regret, etc.), and we also see how this loss continues to play out as characters, especially Suri and Persephone, are forced to make difficult choices.

Suri’s burden is by far the heavier. The dragon she created with Raithe’s sacrifice was pretty much solely responsible for the humans’ victory. It is so powerful that the knowledge and use of this “spell,” for lack of a better word, is pretty much all it takes to win the war for one side of the other. But the price is incredibly high and Suri has had to pay it twice now. Naturally, her conclusion is that she must not love anyone or anything to avoid future tragedy. But she’s not alone in this war, and there are those on both sides of the fight who would pay dearly for her to use it again or to teach someone else how to wield this deadly ability.

Persephone, for her part, has to deal with the regret she feels for turning Raithe away with false words of disinterest all those years ago. Instead, she has had to follow the path she set out for herself, making practical decisions for the betterment of her people. These decisions have come with some joy, but also a lot of increased pain, worry, and self-sacrificed. The Persephone we see in this book is the worn-down leader, a war-time general who has been fighting for too long.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, one of the things that stands out the most in this series is Sullivan’s ability to juggle a large cast of characters and choose just the right POV character for every situation. We’re always seeing event through the perfect angle, and just when you begin wondering what so-and-so’s take would be on events, bam! They get the very next chapter! It all plays out so smoothly and at times it feels like the author is reading one’s mind with regards to what is needed next to keep this perfect juggling act in order. This being the case, there were several characters in this book who we got to see more POV chapters from and I very much enjoyed it.

I also loved the story itself, though it is a bit handicapped by the overall nature of the book. Sullivan provides and introduction to the work and in it explains that the book was originally one longer book that was split into two. This is pretty clear as one reads the book, and especially at the end (big cliffhanger warning there!). But this is a half-hearted complaint at worst. For one, in the hands of a more strict editor trying to force it into one book, we may have lost some of the early chapters that gave us earlier scenes in time than when the majority of the story takes place. We might have missed out on some of the important character work that was laid down in these chapters, especially dealing with the fall-out of Raithe’s death, as I mentioned above. This type of devotion to key character moments is what has allowed the series to maintain its large cast. So while the pacing of this story might have suffered for having to be split into two books, I would still prefer this result to the likely other option of reduced character moments in the service of plot.

Like I said, there’s a pretty major cliffhanger at the end of this book, but don’t let that deter you! I zipped through this book, and it has done all the work needed to set up the next one as even more thrilling. Definitely check it out! And don’t forget to enter for our current giveaway for an ARC version of the book. 

Rating 8: There aren’t really any new ways of praising this series other than to wag my finger at any epic fantasy readers who haven’t jumped on this wagon yet!

Reader’s Advisory

“Age of War” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be “Popular Ensemble Cast Books.”

Find “Age of War” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Growing Things and Other Stories”

42118050Book: “Growing Things and Other Stories” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2019

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

Book Description: A chilling anthology featuring nineteen pieces of short fiction from the multiple award-winning author of the national bestseller The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In “The Teacher,” a Bram Stoker Award nominee for best short story, a student is forced to watch a disturbing video that will haunt and torment her and her classmates’ lives.

Four men rob a pawn shop at gunpoint only to vanish, one-by-one, as they speed away from the crime scene in “The Getaway.”

In “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” a meth addict kidnaps her daughter from her estranged mother as their town is terrorized by a giant monster . . . or not.

Joining these haunting works are stories linked to Tremblay’s previous novels. The tour de force metafictional novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers” deconstructs horror and publishing, possibly bringing in a character from A Head Full of Ghosts, all while serving as a prequel to Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “The Thirteenth Temple” follows another character from A Head Full of Ghosts—Merry, who has published a tell-all memoir written years after the events of the novel. And the title story, “Growing Things,” a shivery tale loosely shared between the sisters in A Head Full of Ghosts, is told here in full.

From global catastrophe to the demons inside our heads, Tremblay illuminates our primal fears and darkest dreams in startlingly original fiction that leaves us unmoored. As he lowers the sky and yanks the ground from beneath our feet, we are compelled to contemplate the darkness inside our own hearts and minds.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I’ll be honest and up front here. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but short story collections aren’t really my thing. True, I will pick them up every once in awhile if the book really tantalizes me (hence the collections I’ve read on here), but overall I tend to avoid them. That said, when I found out that Paul Tremblay’s newest book, “Growing Things and Other Stories”, was going to be a short stories collection, I was basically like

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The man can do no wrong in my eyes. (source)

I did go in with my usual worries and hesitations regarding short story collections, but I also had faith that I would probably like it overall. And that faith paid off for the most part! I enjoyed a number of the stories in “Growing Things”. And as I usually do with short stories collections on this blog, I’ll focus on some of the favorite stories from the book and why I liked them, with a general write up at the end.

“A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken”

First thing to note is that the format of this book didn’t QUITE work in eARC form, as it’s designed to be like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novel. When you have an ARC that doesn’t have ALL the kinks worked out (as far as I know), AND it’s on an eReader, that removes some of the intent to this story. But, all of that said, I found “A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken” to be one of the most emotional stories in this collection, as well as creepy as heck at times. It involves a woman revisiting her childhood home, and having to recount the memories of living there. Some of those memories are about the various ghosts that haunted the house and made her childhood creepy. Others involve her mother who was dying of cancer. Along with some visceral and unsettling imagery, Tremblay really tapped into the grief of losing a parent, and how that kind of loss can haunt a person just as much as the ghosts in the story haunted the house. I definitely teared up a number of times as I read this story. Tremblay is so good with pathos.

“The Ice Tower”

For those of you who like “The Thing” and other ice/cosmic horror, this is a tale you will probably enjoy. When a group of adrenaline junkie climbers are recruited to explore a giant, mysterious pillar of ice, it isn’t just the cold and snow that they have to worry about. Slowly it becomes clear that there is something otherworldly, and wholly threatening, about the ice wall. One of the main features of cosmic horror is that you never QUITE know what is going on, and you can’t expect explanations to go along with the terrible events that will surely unfold, and with “The Ice Tower” the ambiguity was rampant. As someone who knows cold and knows the horrors that can come with it (albeit natural ones in my experience), this story really resonated with me and set me on edge. I also couldn’t help but think about the fact that one of the most notorious ice climbs, Mount Everest, had such a deadly year this past year, which made this terrifying in it’s own way, supernatural scares aside.

“It’s Against The Law To Feed The Ducks”

The third story that stuck with me was this one, which had both a sense of existential dread and a childlike whimsy within it’s pages. Through the eyes of a little boy, a family goes on a remote family vacation in the woods. But during this vacation, something on a global scale happens, and we see it unfold through the perspective of a child who doesn’t understand what’s going on, and whose parents are trying to shield him from it. If you want to talk about unsettling ambiguity, this one knocked it out of the park. It also reminded me a bit of “The Cabin at the End of the World” in it’s themes. The reader never quite figures out just what it is that has happened, and the childish lens that we see everything through is written very well, and made it all the more upsetting. This was probably my favorite in the entire collection.

In terms of the stories as a whole, there was a lot to like. We get revisits to characters in Tremblay’s book “A Head Full of Ghosts”, we get to see some more monster stories, and even Hellboy makes an appearance (as Tremblay wrote for a collection that was in tribute to “Hellboy” and Mike Mignola)! While I thought that the three I mentioned were far and away the best of the book, there were other strong stories as well. While not many of them really ‘scared’ me, I did find them all to be pretty entertaining.

“Growing Things and Other Stories” is a nice sampler of the kinds of stories Paul Tremblay has to offer, and I think that horror fans really need to check it out! And like always, make sure to have some tissues handy, because you will probably cry.

Rating 8: Once again Paul Tremblay shows his talent and contributions to the horror genre. “Growing Things and Other Stories” is a healthy mix of different kinds of scary stories, as well as moments that are filled with emotion.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Growing Things and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists

Find “Growing Things and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Lock Every Door”

41837243Book: “Lock Every Door” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley!

Book Description: No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

While the combined phrase of ‘urban Gothic’ may seem like it contradicts itself, it’s a genre that can be really effective when done well. One example that comes to mind is “Rosemary’s Baby”, about a woman who has been isolated within the confines of a luxury apartment building in the middle of New York City (and she happens to be carrying the devil’s baby, but that’s neither here nor there for this comparison). The ability to make a character feel completely alone in the Gothic sense in the middle of a huge metropolis like Manhattan can take some finagling, and I’m happy to say that like Ira Levin before, Riley Sager has tapped into this theme with his newest thriller “Lock Every Door”. And while there’s no devil baby to be found, strange things are still afoot within the narrative and within the walls of the luxury apartment building The Bartholomew.

“Lock Every Door” follows Jules, a woman who has found herself nearly flat broke and without housing, so it’s natural that the strange offer of ‘apartment sitting’ in a glamorous building off of Central Park would be snatched up by her, odd rules be damned. We slowly learn that Jules isn’t just a naive woman who willfully ignores strange warning signs; she’s literally desperate. Being without a job, without housing, and with a dwindling bank account means that twelve thousand dollars is going to be worth more than rigid, downright draconian rules she has to abide by. I liked Jules a lot because she ISN’T foolish; she feels like she’s in a corner and has no choice. Because of this I had huge sympathy for her and wasn’t as fast to want to shake some sense into her. And she hasn’t necessarily willfully isolated herself for the most part; outside of her friend Chloe, she is basically alone in the world, as her parents are dead and her sister has been missing for years. For her these rules are very easy to live by simply because she is already isolated, even within a large metropolis. She is a complex and also tragic main character who I liked following, if only because of the believability with her in all aspects of the story. While some have suggested that she should have at least been more willing to ditch out as soon as the bad things start happening, I still maintain that sunk cost fallacies, desperation, and the constant gaslighting by modern society towards women and their anxieties made this believable to me. There were also well done supporting characters, from the helpful doorman Charlie who has personal pain of his own, and Chloe, who wants to support Jules in any way she can, but whose generosity can come off as condescension. 

But the strongest aspect of “Lock Every Door” was the incredibly suspenseful plot and setting of a gorgeous, but perhaps insidious, luxury apartment building. Described with intimidating architecture and disturbing gargoyles, and a tainted past to boot, it felt like a healthy mix of The Cecil Hotel and the Shandor Building in “Ghostbusters”. We know that something is happening inside and that the residents and realtors are hiding something, but Sager did a good job of keeping the details pretty close to the vest. Harkening back to Ira Levin and “Rosemary’s Baby”, the question of whether everyone is out to get your or you are just paranoid is prevalent in this book, as a vast conspiracy of neighbors simply couldn’t be possible in Jules’s mind. At least at first. The clues are dropped and the pieces are set out at a meticulous pace, and by the time we did find out what was going on I was pleasantly duped, and could also see how we got there, even if I didn’t notice it. The pacing was such that I had a very hard time putting this book down, and I needed to know what was going to happen next at the end of each chapter.

“Lock Every Door” was a creepy and nervewracking read, and another well done book by Riley Sager. The paranoia and tension will make this a great book to take on vacation this summer, but perhaps reading it alone at night would be second guessed.

Rating 8: An addictive thriller with shades of Hitchcock and “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Lock Every Door” will put you on edge and keep you guessing until the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lock Every Door” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2019”, and would fit in on “Fiction that Features NYC”.

Find “Lock Every Door” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Shadows of Self”

16065004Book: “Shadows of Self” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Books, October 2015

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

Book Description: “Shadows of Self” shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.

Previously Reviewed: “The Alloy of Law”

Review: This is another series that I’ve been reading in audiobook format, and as such, am at the mercy of a more limited holds list at the library. But oh well! Not only is the narrator of Sanderson’s books excellent (I’m pretty sure he does them all), but I also have my own weird thing about switching formats halfway through a series. Yes, I know, I’m a freak. Anyways! My hold finally came through and it was on to the next installment in this second trilogy in the Mistborn world featuring our favorite lawmen, Wax and Wayne!

A year after the events of the first book, Wax and Wayne are still doing their thing, solving crimes in the city of Elendel. All the while, however, Wayne is having to balance his crime-solving with also be the lord of his house and planning a wedding with his fiance. The latter takes a back-burner position in priorities when a new enemy appears on the scene, one who seems to be able to predict their every action and disappear into any crowd. Wax and Wayne struggle to keep up, but also to put together a possible motive and endgame for this mysterious villain. Marasi, working as a more official officer of the law, joins the action, and soon enough they all find themselves caught up in a conspiracy that is set to rock the entire city.

While this story still is very much Wax’s, one of the things that stood out to me the most in this book was how I felt it was improved by giving Wayne his own chapters as well as Marasi. I’ve always liked Wax, but I also don’t feel super drawn to his character. I think this is because he’s essentially Batman in the Mistborn world. Wealthy, powerful, fighting crime, and, of course, brooding. Just as Batman isn’t my favorite superhero for this reason, I don’t feel a lot of draw to Wayne in the same way. But I do very much like Wayne and Marasi. Both seem a bit more complicated, with internal struggles and story arcs that seem ripe for more exploration. Wayne, of course, is a very amusing narrator, though here I do wish that some of the clever lines would give away more often to the actual heart of the matter (something that, conversely, he is very good at identifying, unlike Wax at times). And I appreciate Marasi’s journey to prove herself worthy of working along the famed Wax and to carve her own place in the police force, one that she earns through her abilities and not through her connections to her notable family or Wayne himself.

I very much enjoyed the story itself. This entire trilogy so far has been tending much more towards Westerns and thrillers than fantasy (take out the fantasy elements and the stories themselves would hold up pretty easily). Neither of those are really favorite genres of mine, but this one counterbalances that with the introduction of a very compelling villain. The villain has really great abilities that truly challenge Wax (similar to Batman, it’s tough to create a villain that poses an actual threat when you’re hero is so established as a badass). I really liked how it wasn’t clear what the motivation or connection was behind the villain’s actions throughout the book as well. So not only are readers caught up in the fast-paced action, but there is a legitimate mystery at the heart of it all. And the best part is the incredible shock at the end of the story. Obviously, I won’t spoil it. But it’s not only huge for this book, but for the series as a whole. I’m excited to see how things play out from here!

My one criticism of the book (other than my own personal hang-ups on Wax’s character) has to do with some of the action scenes. I’m not really sure how to articulate the issue I had. It was by no means large, but it was almost as if there were times when some of the action read as a bit cheesy, with Wax pulling stunts that seemed a bit too similar to the likes of what you may see in the “Fast and the Furious” or some other corny action movie. Many of these scenes read well and the cool magic system that Sanderson has built up for this world continues to entertain. But there were just a few moments that walked the line of “cool for coolness-sake” a bit too closely for my taste.

Overall, however, I very much enjoyed this book. The ending itself with the surprise reveal probably helped bump the book up a whole point in my estimation. And it’s the kind of reshuffle that will have lasting impact, so it creates added interest for the next book in the series.

Rating 8: Some action points were a bit much at times, but some incredible twists and the addition of a viewpoint for Wayne made this a fun read.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Shadows of Self” is on these Goodreads lists: “Most Action-Packed Books” and “Best Steampunk Books.”

Find “Shadows of Self” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Black Powder War”

91989Book: “Black Powder War” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, May 2006

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

Book Description: Picking up where book two left off (in China, Macau) Captain Will Laurence and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are ordered to retrieve and escort a precious cargo of valuable dragon eggs from Istanbul to England. They take the Old Silk Road from China to Istanbul, crossing deserts and mountains. En route to England, they help the beleaguered Prussians battle Napoleon.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade”

Review: Trucking along with this series! Once you get me started, there’s no stopping me! Well, the waiting list at the library for the audiobook does hold me up…mostly because I love the narrator for this book so much that I refuse to read it in any other format now. So really, it’s my own pickiness that is holding me up. But really, it’s also probably for the best, as it’s always nice to have a solid series on the back burner that one can return to if ever caught in the midst of a string of bad luck reads. That’s not the case right now, really. I just couldn’t resist.

Lawrence and Temeraire are anxious to return home to England and rejoin their fellows in the war against Napoleon. They are also tasked with picking up a few dragon eggs on their way home. After a few unfortunate events, a sea voyage ends up being off the table as means of travel, and they’re forced to prepare for an over-land expedition. Along the way they face challenges of terrain, both mountain and desert, as well as rogue dragons and shady political figures. They also eventually find themselves caught up in the war itself on the continent, pulled before dueling loyalties: their honor to the foreign allies and the urgency to deliver the dragon eggs before they hatch.

As my reviews indicate, the first two books in this series took me a bit by surprise. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into when I started the series (many books that feature dragons have clear tropes, none of which were found here), and the second book went in a new direction even from that. But now I think I’m starting to settle in and it all comes down to a similar theme: Lawrence and Temeraire go on adventures! Not only has each book taken place in very different locations and featured very difference challenges, foes, and comrades. But within each book are a series of mini adventures that the two friends must navigate.

In this one, we have another travel adventure for the first half of the book, as the pair and their crew leave China and make their way across Asia towards their home. Along the way, they must battle the elements, getting into some dire circumstances in the mountains and in a sandstorm. I was also excited when they ran into a group of feral dragons. As the series has progressed, it’s become clear that Lawrence and many people in general, don’t truly understand dragons and what they are capable of. There have been a lot of preconceptions that Temeraire has proved false, about dragon intelligence and individuality. Throughout it all, we’ve often heard about feral dragons as those that can’t be tamed or made to work with people. I very much enjoyed the way they were worked into the story and the foibles of the mini dragon society we see here.

I was also excited to see a return to the military aspect of the story. The first book had a brief battle scene towards the end of the book, and the second one had very little in this regard. But half way through this book, we really dive into the military tactics of dragons. I like the way Novik highlighted how different countries have had different approaches to how they use their aerial corps, a detail that continues the heighten the believability of dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars.

Further, we began to see how dragons themselves can contribute to these types of military strategies, with Temeraire putting to use his knowledge for formations and strategy for in-air battle. I also really liked the way we see Napoleon use his dragons in very clever ways, making his military brilliance transfer just as well to this fantastical element. We also see how the presence of dragons could influence the outcome of some of these historic events in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate.

The ending did seem to kind of come out of the blue, however, with things building up to a climax and then quickly ending. I’m not sure the pacing of the story overall was quite right, in this regard. But other than, I’m still thoroughly enjoying this series!

Rating 8: I particularly enjoyed the return to the military aspects of the story in this one.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Powder War” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories” and “Dragon Books NOT ROMANCE.”

Find “Black Powder War” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Lady from the Black Lagoon”

34993030Book: “The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick” by Mallory O’Meara

Publishing Info: Hanover Square Press, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Lady from the Black Lagoon uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick—one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters.

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed since.

Review: As someone who loves horror movies, I’m actually not very well versed in a lot of the Universal ‘Monster’ Flicks. Though we watched all of Karloff’s “Frankenstein” and parts of Lugosi’s “Dracula” in a college class, I am dreadfully uneducated when it comes to the lion’s share of the film canon. That said, I have seen “Creature from The Black Lagoon”, and it’s one that has a special place in my heart if only because The Creature, or Gill-man, or what have you, is such a tragic figure in this “Beauty and the Beast”-esque tale. As opposed to his Universal Monster counterparts, Gill-man looks more sad and lonely than frightening and foreboding. As the weird girl in middle and high school who had her fair share of crushes on more popular guys, I feel that longing and loneliness the Gill-man kind of has.

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Not that I kidnapped the objects of my affection, however… (source)

What I hadn’t realized was that The Creature was designed by a woman named Milicent Patrick, so when “The Lady from the Black Lagoon” by Mallory O’Meara came upon my radar I was immediately interested in learning about her story. What I wasn’t ready for was how personal this part biography, part investigation story would be, for O’Meara AND for women in Hollywood AND horror.

O’Meara is the perfect person to tell Milicent’s story, in that not only has she been invested in Patrick’s life’s work since she was a teenager, but she herself has certain parallels to Patrick. Like Patrick, O’Meara is a young woman working in Hollywood, specifically as a producer of horror films. And like Patrick, O’Meara has faced rampant sexism and misogyny in her day to day life at her job, from people assuming she isn’t a producer based on her age and gender. So this story isn’t just an interesting biography of a woman whose contributions to horror have been lost, but also an investigation into her life led by another woman who still sees the same problems within the industry. While Patrick’s life is undoubtedly fun to read about (for example, she was one of the ink and color animators for the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment in Disney’s “Fantasia”, which has ALWAYS been my favorite sequence in one of my favorite Disney movies!), it’s also a familiar and frustrating look into how women were treated in show business during this time period… and how they still are treated today. Patrick was ultimately black balled from design after Bud Westmore, a famous designer who was  jealous of her success, insisted that she not be given credit for the monster that SHE CREATED. Even recently people still argue that she wasn’t the actual creative mind behind it, in spite of the evidence that she was. O’Meara successfully takes it upon herself to get her legacy out there, and the reader not only gets to read about the life of a pretty neat woman, but the time, effort, and experiences of what it took to uncover the story. From Hearst Castle to Hollywood to Las Vegas, Patrick’s life is laid out because of O’Meara’s hard work and diligence.

But the part of this story that I found I was the most invested in, and the most galling, was the sexism and misogyny aspects of this story, both experienced by Patrick AND O’Meara. It’s not a big secret that Hollywood can be incredibly toxic for the women who work there, but that doesn’t make both Patrick’s AND O’Meara’s experiences any less upsetting. Though O’Meara hasn’t lost her job due to jealous male colleagues, she has her own personal stories to tell of others mistreating her, the most glaring being a story about an actor working on one of her movies making sexual innuendos about her in a ‘does the carpet match the drapes’ kind of way (and I did a little digging and have a theory as to just who this actor was, as she left his name out out of fear of retaliation. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me if I’m right). Given that women are STILL shut out of so many opportunities when it comes to film and television behind the scenes, especially genre films like horror and fantasy, hearing that those who ARE there get treated like this is very upsetting, especially as a lady horror fan. While O’Meara’s experiences certainly aren’t unique, that is the exact reason that these experiences need to be shared.

“The Lady from The Black Lagoon” was a very interesting and rewarding read for this horror fan. I definitely think that horror fans everywhere really ought to give it a go, if only so Milicent Patrick can continue to finally get her due long after it was stolen from her.

Rating 8: A thorough, eye opening, and emotional book that tells the story of a forgotten creative mind, and how the problems she faced in her industry are far from fixed.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lady from the Black Lagoon” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Old Hollywood”, and “Los Angeles (non-fiction)”.

Find “The Lady from the Black Lagoon” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Because of Miss Bridgerton”

25657772Book: “Because of Miss Bridgerton” by Julia Quinn

Publishing Info: Avon, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Sometimes you find love in the most unexpected of places…

This is not one of those times.

Everyone expects Billie Bridgerton to marry one of the Rokesby brothers. The two families have been neighbors for centuries, and as a child the tomboyish Billie ran wild with Edward and Andrew. Either one would make a perfect husband… someday.

Sometimes you fall in love with exactly the person you think you should…

Or not.

There is only one Rokesby Billie absolutely cannot tolerate, and that is George. He may be the eldest and heir to the earldom, but he’s arrogant, annoying, and she’s absolutely certain he detests her. Which is perfectly convenient, as she can’t stand the sight of him, either.

But sometimes fate has a wicked sense of humor…

Because when Billie and George are quite literally thrown together, a whole new sort of sparks begins to fly. And when these lifelong adversaries finally kiss, they just might discover that the one person they can’t abide is the one person they can’t live without…

Review: I don’t read straight up romance fiction very often, but when I do, it’s usually historical romance. And there’s no one better at writing historical romance than Julia Quinn at this point. She’s so successful that her “Bridgerton” series has been picked up by Netflix to be produced by Shonda Rhymes. I can’t say that that was my reason for initially starting this book, but I did discover that fact halfway through which made it feel a bit like fate, since I’ll definitely check out the show when it finally shows up.

The Bridgertons and Rokesbys have been neighbors for years, and as two of the most prominent families in the area, the children of both families have practically grown up together. None of them more close than Billie Bridgerton and Edward and Andrew Rokesby. Together, they’ve run wild throughout the countryside, often lead into the most trouble by Billie herself. Left out of these affairs has always been the eldest Rokesby, the serious and responsible George. But, as adults, when Billie’s bravery and gumption has translated into a sincere feeling of responsibility for caring for her father’s lands and George has come to appreciate the benefit of a bright smile and a joke, the two find themselves beginning to come to understand the other better and better.

I’m by no means a completeist of Quinn’s original Bridgerton series. I’ve read a few here and there. That being the case, it took me a bit to realize that this is essentially a prequel series to that one. The main chunk of Bridgerton books cover the exploits of the next generation, the children of Billie’s older brother. I’m not sure how many of these characters who up in that series, but I, at least, wasn’t familiar with any of them or their stories and backgrounds. But in this vacuum of my knowledge, I very much enjoyed what was presented here.

What stands out the most is the fact that this book doesn’t follow the traditional format of romance novels. The typical steps are as follows: 1.) Hero and heroine meet and while not understanding the other, sparks immediately fly 2.) Hero and heroine are compelled to marry for some reason or another 3.) Steamy scenes throughout the middle of the book while each character realizes they have feelings for the other 4.) Something happens to make the hero (typically) feel that he doesn’t deserve the heroine and he pulls away 5.) Heroine misunderstands this as the hero not truly having feelings for her and having just been forced into the whole thing 6.) Something occurs to force them to come clean to each other and happily ever after begins. The fact that these steps are often so predictable isn’t a criticism in and of itself. I know I, for one, reads romance novels like this exactly because I can predict what is going to happen for the most part. No nasty surprises or sad endings here! But what’s great about this book is that while still getting to the happy ending, it does so in a less traditional manner.

Instead of the rather quick build up to the mid-book steamy scenes, this one spends about 85% of the story building up the relationship between George and Billie. We get a bunch of casual scenes between the two where we can see the changes in their relationship slowly taking place. These characters have grown up knowing each other, so there’s a lovely balance of the familiar in their banter, but also the new wonder that comes with realizing that someone you’ve known forever isn’t necessarily the person you’ve always thought them to be. The romance is built more slowly and their relationship comes together much later in the book than I’ve typically seen, and I enjoyed this change very much.

Billie is an excellent character and she remains true to the heart of her character throughout the story. Often, when we get to the last two thirds section of the typical romance plot, even the most brave and confident heroine must fall prey to the insecurities that make her question the hero’s attachment to her. Thankfully, while Billie still has her doubts and misinterpretations, she also doesn’t wilt or fall prey to this typical arc. I was pleased to see these types of misunderstandings cleared up much more quickly through the type of frank conversation and steady sense of self that was originally built into both of these characters.

The book was also simply laugh-out-loud funny at times. The dialogue is fantastic. George and Billie’s conversations are great, of course. But George’s brother and Billie’s close friend Andrew really takes the cake for holding up the comedic side of things. I also really appreciated the strong friendship that was built between Billie and Andrew, one that remained solid throughout the book and wasn’t plagued with jealousy or unnatural rifts to serve some dramatic purpose.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s light, funny, and the romance took a less expected route when getting to the happily ever after that we’re all there for. Billie was one of the more fun romance heroines I’ve read in a while, and I liked George’s solid sense of self and responsibility to those he cares about. Fans of historical romance fiction will enjoy this. And if you’re looking to get ahead of the Netflix show, this is an excellent place to start (though it’s unclear how much of these prequel stories will make it into the series itself.)

Rating 8: A fun romance novel that truly made me laugh out loud at times.

Reader’s Advisory: “Because of Miss Bridgerton” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Humorous Historical Romances” and “Love/Hate Relationships.”

Find “Because of Miss Bridgerton” at your library using WorldCat.