Kate’s Review: “American Vampire, Vol. 8”

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Book: “American Vampire, Vol. 8” by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Vampires in space? It’s 1965. Pearl and Skinner escaped The Gray Trader with more questions than answers, and their search for clues leads them to … NASA! You’ve never seen vampires like this before!

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque continue their epic Eisner Award-winning story, as Skinner Sweet and Pearl touch more of the key moments in American history.

Review: It really has been a trip returning to “American Vampire” after I fell off of it a few years ago. And when I was approaching the penultimate volume, “Volume 8”, I was a bit cagey about how I was approaching the end. Partially because I felt like Scott Snyder just introduced a storyline that, to me, seemed like it needs to have perhaps a FEW volumes to wrap it up in a way that didn’t feel rushed. But also because even in the face of this new storyline, there were some hanging threads that we hadn’t addressed (hello James Book as a vampire?). So I was nervous going in, having been burned in the past when a story seems like it had to wrap up really quickly, maybe before it was ready. But I’m happy to report that my hesitance was unfounded, because “American Vampire: Volume 8”, was a stellar entry to the overall mythos!

I remember looking at the cover of this and thinking to myself ‘oh come the fuck on’, but honestly Snyder did a really good job of building up a great narrative to send Skinner Sweet into outer space that I bought hook line and sinker while it mirrors American history. We are now in the mid 1960s, and the Space Race and Cold War is at the forefront. Pearl and Skinner had a nearly deadly run in with the mysterious Gray Trader, a vampire that has power, strength, and influence that neither of them has ever seen, and are now back with the Vassals of the Morning Star, who have tapped them to join up to help try and stop this new foe. This involves satellites, Russian surveillance, and a long sleeping creature called the Tiamat that could awaken at any time and prompt the Russians to send nukes flying to prevent it, even if it means the end of the world, with the Gray Trader actively trying to set the wheels in motion to make it happen. So the VMS, with Felicia Book back in play, want Pearl and Skinner to help prevent nuclear armageddon by keeping the Gray Trader’s movements at bay by working against the satellite surveillance Russia has been using to keep an eye on the Tiamat’s potential reawakening . And it is such a creative way to take on ideas of the Space Race and the Cold War and apply it to this story. It’s really one of the more creative ways that Snyder has approached significant moments in American history and compared and contrasted it within the vampire narrative, and he pulls it off within the story, even if that story ends with sending Skinner freaking Sweet into outer space. I believed the reasoning and I really enjoyed the story arc.

But the most interesting and satisfying aspect of this book is a moment that I have been waiting for since I started “American Vampire” all those years ago: Pearl and Felicia Book finally, finally meet. And not only meet, but are teamed up on their own part of the Gray Trader mission that involves breaking into Area 51. TWO BADASS VAMPIRE LADIES TEAMING UP AT LAST?!?!?!


I love Pearl and Felicia as we all know, and I love how their differences and their differing perspectives and experiences both serve to bring out the best of them as a team. Whether it’s company woman with a lot of experience and leadership strength Felicia, or renegade but compassionate Pearl, there is no sexist bullshitting around with them being mistrustful or jealous of each other. They are very different, but their differences make for a fantastic team dynamic and I loved seeing them both come together and have their own mission. Their thread is the moment that shines the most in this volume and it has been a long time coming to see them together.

I know that the next volume of “American Vampire” is the final one. I THINK that we have pulled things together enough that we could be on the verge of sticking the landing. But at the same time, we still haven’t seen Jim Book in vampire form arrive to meet up with everyone else yet, so maybe I am anxious. Regardless, I liked “Volume 8” and what it did for moving the Gray Trader story along! Let’s see how Snyder wraps this all up!

Rating 8: Interstellar vampire horror with a dash of global peril and deepening conspiracy, “American Vampire, Vol. 8” is setting up a finale that has a lot of, uh, stakes in play.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire, Vol. 8” is included on the Goodreads list “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comics A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

Blog Tour: “The Late Mrs. Willoughby”

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Book: “The Late Mrs. Willoughby” b y Claudia Gray

Publishing Info: Vintage, May 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the marketer!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Catherine and Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey are not entirely pleased to be sending their eligible young daughter Juliet out into the world again: the last house party she attended, at the home of the Knightleys, involved a murder—which Juliet helped solve. Particularly concerning is that she intends to visit her new friend Marianne Brandon, who’s returned home to Devonshire shrouded in fresh scandal—made more potent by the news that her former suitor, the rakish Mr. Willoughby, intends to take up residence at his local estate with his new bride.

Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley are thrilled that their eldest son, Jonathan—who, like his father, has not always been the most socially adept—has been invited to stay with his former schoolmate, John Willoughby. Jonathan himself is decidedly less taken with the notion of having to spend extended time under the roof of his old bully, but that all changes when he finds himself reunited with his fellow amateur sleuth, the radiant Miss Tilney. And when shortly thereafter, Willoughby’s new wife—whom he married for her fortune—dies horribly at the party meant to welcome her to town.

With rumors flying and Marianne—known to be both unstable and previously jilted by the dead woman’s newly made widower—under increased suspicion, Jonathan and Juliet must team up once more to uncover the murderer. But as they collect clues and close in on suspects, eerie incidents suggest that the killer may strike again, and that the pair are in far graver danger than they or their families could imagine.

Previously Reviewed: “The Murder of Mr. Wickham”

Review: I really loved “The Murder of Mr. Wickham” when I read it last year. So much so that it became my preferred present for the many readers in my family. Not only was it an excellent mystery, but the author managed to do the near-impossible and accurately depict not one, not two, but a huge cast of Jane Austen’s most popular characters. And on top of that, she created two new characters who were able to hold their own in this very competitive cast. All of this to say, I was incredibly pleased to see that there was a sequel coming out this year!

When Juliet Tilney sets out on another social visit, she’s confident in assuring her parents that there is no possibility of murder this go around. Oh, how wrong she will be. For, when visiting the still-struggling Marianna Brandon, Juliet Tilney is introduced to the Willoughbys, and during one note-worthy dinner party, what should happen but that Mrs. Willoughby drops dead of poison. Now, with the help of her friend Jonathan Darcy, Juliet once again sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I was really excited to see what this book had in store. While I was very impressed with the first book, it was also very much a product of the specific circumstances that made up the plot. Jonathan and Juliet were excellent new characters, but the work of carrying the plot and the interest of the reader, was largely hefted by the sprawling cast of popular Jane Austen heroes and heroines. This book is a much more tightly focused story with a much more limited cast of characters. In this way, Jonathan and Juliet had more work to do to carry the book largely on their own. And I think they were more than capable of the job!

I really liked the continued exploration of Jonathan’s low level autism and how his life has been shaped by the reactions of others and their ability or inability to accept or understand him. Here, we get an insight into Jonathan’s past as a victim of bullying at the hands of none other than Mr. Willoughby himself. We also see Jonathan struggle to understand his changing feelings for Juliet and realizing that he, and not only others, has been placing limitations on himself. It was an interesting and subtle exploration that I thought worked very well. For her part, Juliet’s story is much more straight-forward. But I particularly enjoyed the small commentary that ran through the book that acknowledges the limited choices that young women like Juliet faced. A social visit such as this, where Juliet travels to live with her friends the Brandons for several weeks, would not just be a trip of leisure. No, a large chunk of the expectations and motivation would be that a young woman would gain access to new society and new opportunities for marriage. Juliet reflects several times on the challenges between balancing the very practical concerns of a woman such as herself, one with only limited financial support from her family, with her own romantic preferences.

I also really enjoyed the mystery in this one. I was able to predict a few of the secondary aspects of the mystery, but the author did a great job of laying out believable red herrings and misdirecting the reader effectively from the larger truth behind what had happened and why. The motivation, in particular, was interesting and played into a plotline that I had been thinking of as a completely separate thing up until the end.

I will say, however, that this one did suffer a bit by the loss of the other Jane Austen characters. While I enjoyed Juliet and Jonathan immensely, my own preferences for Austen’s characters would not have me picking a focus on “Sense and Sensibility” and all of the secondary characters that make up this book’s cast. As these characters connect to the first book, I understand why this choice was made, and I also think that, as a whole, they were all done very well. I really liked getting to see Eleanor and Edward, in particular. But Brandon and Marianne just aren’t top choices for me, personally, so I couldn’t help being a bit less interested in their dynamics.

This was a very solid follow-up to the first book! In many ways, Claudia Gray made more a statement with this book than with the first: that wasn’t just a happy chance! No, she’s just that legitimately talented. Fans of the first book will definitely enjoy this, and I recommend both of these books to any fans of historical mysteries or Jane Austen.

Rating 8: With the first book, Gray made a splash as one of the best authors tackling Jane Austen re-imaginings today. With this one, she cements her place in the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Late Mrs. Willoughby” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Jane Austen Re-tellings.

Serena’s Review: “Fractal Noise”

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Book: “Fractal Noise” by Christopher Paolini

Publishing Info: Tor, May 2023

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

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: July 25th, 2234: The crew of the Adamura discovers the Anomaly.

On the seemingly uninhabited planet Talos VII:a circular pit, 50 kilometers wide.

Its curve not of nature, but design.

Now, a small team must land and journey on foot across the surface to learn who built the hole and why. But they all carry the burdens of lives carved out on disparate colonies in the cruel cold of space. For some the mission is the dream of the lifetime, for others a risk not worth taking, and for one it is a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe. Each step they take toward the mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last.

And the ghosts of their past follow.

Review: I was aware that Christopher Paolini had written a science fiction novel in the last few years. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere on my monstrous Goodreads TBR list. But as is the case so often, once a bit of time has passed, it’s very hard for me to make room in my reading schedule to scour back through these past picks. Instead, I saw this new sci-fi novel coming out by him this spring and decided, ah, yes, here is where I will make up for missing the first one! So let’s see what’s in store!

A small crew, while out on a typical, exploratory mission, comes across something that confounds all explanation: a monstrously huge hole, dug on the surface of an uninhabited planet, and so perfectly circular that it cannot be natural. But with no signs of intelligent life, who or what created this hole and what is its purpose? Alex, a man running from his past, lands on the surface and sets out with a small team to cross the barren wasteland to reach the hole. But as they travel, the constant, resonating “boom” produced by the hole begins to test their sanity and their will.

Before I get into the review itself, I want to address what has happened on the Goodreads page for this book. It came out that the cover art chosen for this book was created using AI technology. In response, many reviewers took to Goodreads to protest this decision, and the loss of livelihood that it represented for illustrators, by review bombing this book with one star ratings. I think there is a very complicated, interesting, and unavoidable conversation to be had about how AI will impact many industries going forward, including this one. By no means do I feel that I have the answers to this. However, one thing I am firmly against is the cognitive dissonance displayed by review bombers tanking the ratings of a book, A WORK OF ART BY AN AUTHOR, to protest the decision of the publisher to forego supporting cover artists by using AI technology. There are places to have this conversation and protest this decision, but to destroy the rating for a book (again, created by an artist, the author) in the name of supporting artists…there’s just something supremely disjointed and misplaced about this. Obviously, Paolini is a big-name author, but I don’t think that should even have a place in the conversation. He’s still an artist who created a work of art and is now being trashed by readers for a decision a publisher made…all in the name of supporting artists. It’s unfortunate in every way and a shame to see. But on to the actual review…

I really enjoyed this book! As I said, I’ve haven’t read anything by Paolini since the “Inheritance Cycle” so many years ago. And while I enjoyed those, I also felt the writing itself lacked a bit of polish. But I can definitely see the improvements that time has played on Paolini’s style. Here, the writing felt confident and tidy, neatly weaving in and out between the events of Alex’s past and the building terror and dread that is his current situation. I also liked the exploration of grief, regret, and the mental barriers that we can create for ourselves. Alex’s journey is one largely of self-destruction and a search for meaning when he has begun to doubt that such a thing will ever exist for him again.

I also really liked the science fiction elements of this story. In many ways, this was a very restrained story, taking place largely on a barren planet with very few alien aspects. Instead, it very much reads as a survival story, with more and more things going wrong for the team and their struggles to continue on in the face of growing dangers. On top of this, the description of the corrosive effects on the mind that are the constant powerful winds the team must walk into and the ever-present, mind-numbing “booms” that are emitted from the hole are excellent. The increasing sense of doom is pervasive and very effective. I also will say that I’ve found that science fiction is a great release for my love of survival stories. With stories set in our own world, all too often I find myself bogged down on the details of survival stories and whether or not I find them believable. But science fiction? Who am I to say what is and isn’t possible? Honestly, it’s kind of a relief, since I really do enjoy survival stories and no one is more annoyed by my obsessive ways with these types of tales than me!

Overall, I thought the pacing was pretty good, but I do think it floundered a bit at the end. For all of the psychological build up, Alex’s experiences and reflections in the end all felt a bit too predictable and trite. I really like the general concept of the end, especially the reflections on the vast unknown that the hole represents, but it did feel a bit clumsy. And then it kind of just ended, which was also a bit jarring. But, still, I really enjoyed this one. I can’t speak to how similar or not this is to his first book, but I think this one will be enjoyable to most science fiction fans, especially those who enjoy survival stories and a slower, carefully paced story.

Rating 8: The brutal and harsh alien terrain perfectly parallels the mental and emotional journey of a protagonist who struggles with grief and finding meaning in a life full of wonder and tragedy.

Reader’s Advisory: Obnoxiously, “Fractal Noise” is mostly on Goodreads lists about AI art which, while an interesting conversation on its own…is not a useful list for readers actually looking for recommendations for similar reads. It is on 52 Book Club 2023: #32 Published By Macmillan.

Book Club Review: “Spear”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club 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 retellings and re-imaginings.  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: “Spear” by Nicola Griffin

Publishing Info: Tordotcom, April 2022

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Retelling/Re-imagining: “Legends of King Arthur”

Book Description: The girl knows she has a destiny before she even knows her name. She grows up in the wild, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake come to her on the spring breeze, and when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she knows that her future lies at his court.

And so, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and, with a broken hunting spear and mended armour, rides on a bony gelding to Caer Leon. On her adventures she will meet great knights and steal the hearts of beautiful women. She will fight warriors and sorcerers. And she will find her love, and the lake, and her fate.

Kate’s Thoughts

I’ve mentioned a number of times on here that I am not super versed in some of the more classic European literature tales, and that extends to Arthurian legends. I think that the adaptations I have seen all the way through are Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone”, which is more about Arthur getting the sword and not much else, and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, which is, of course, near perfection. But it’s not like an absurdist comedy with holy hand grenades and killer rabbits is going to reflect Arthur in all his significance. So going into “Spear” I didn’t really know what to expect, as I have a vague working knowledge of some aspects of the source material, but not much. And I’m sorry to say that while I went in trying to be open minded, “Spear” wasn’t my jam. I just kept thinking about coconuts and John Cleese slaughtering people in ridiculous ways and wishing I was watching that again.


So there were some things I liked about “Spear” and that was mostly in the ways that Nicola Griffin tinkered with the characters and the canon. Whether it was having main character Peretur be a gender bent version of Parzival during his quest with the other knights for the Holy Grail. I liked Peretur’s queer relationship with Nimuë, I liked that Arturus (Arthur), Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) and Llanza (Lancelot) were in a loving thrupple as opposed to being in a dramatic love triangle, and I liked some of the ways that Griffin explores themes of the Grail and the magical bits of it. But there was so much I struggled with. The biggest issue I had was the writing. It is VERY lyrical, and very detailed, and I had initially picked this book up in print form but threw in the towel VERY quickly and opted for audio. My thought process was that I would be on a couple road trips to Duluth before book club and could use that time to listen, as I’ve had success in the past with that if I find the writing tricky. But it didn’t really help this time. And I think that had I had more investment in the Arthurian source material I would have been more vested in engaging, but since I don’t know it very well I found this book to be a tricky read, bordering on a chore. I am inclined to believe that this is probably a ‘your mileage may vary’ situation, but it just didn’t click with me.

Fans of King Arthur and very purple prose writing styles would probably connect with this, but it wasn’t for me.

Serena’s Thoughts

This was an interesting read for me. On paper, it has a lot of things I really enjoy. I’m fairly familiar with King Arthur legends, but mostly through a strange smattering of exposure to various retellings and adaptations and my own internet rabbit holes of research. I’ve only looked at a few of the “original” legends, themselves. All of this to say, when I picked up “Spear,” I was able to tell right away that this was going to appeal to the big fans of these stories. And that comes to the second thing I typically enjoy: lyrical writing. From the very first page, this is what stands out the most about this book for me. The writing is dense and poetic. There were many times that I found myself having to re-read long sentences to piece together exactly what was being said. As a fan of lyrical writing, I’m used to this experience to some extent, but even for me, I found this one a bit more challenging that I would have liked. That said, I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I am with Griffin’s ability to match the tone of the “original” King Arthur legends. For the big fans, this book will feel as if it can be neatly slotted right in alongside those, as the style of writing and storytelling found here match so well to those.

It’s also clear that Griffin has done her research. For such a short novel, it’s truly impressive just how many details and references she manages to pack in there. As a fan of Juliet Marillier’s, an author who largely relies on Irish folklore and legends, I enjoyed seeing some of these tales and beings woven in throughout this story.

I also really liked our main character and her story. I had a few concerns early on when she showed hints of being a bit too unbelievably good at certain skills with no explanation, but luckily there did turn out to be good reasons for this. I also enjoyed the gender-swapping of her character from male to female and the various changes and additions that Griffith brought to the story. Overall, I did find myself struggling to read this one more than I had hoped (the writing is hard), but I do think that it will greatly appeal to hardcore King Arthur fans.

Kate’s Rating 5: This was a bit of a slog for me, as I couldn’t connect to the writing style and I know very little about King Arthur lore and legend.

Serena’s Rating 8: For me, personally, this was probably a 7. But I rounded up to an 8 for the true Arthur aficionados who will appreciate the meticulous and detailed work that went into creating this story.

Book Club Questions

  1. How familiar are you with the legends of King Arthur? Specifically, how much did you know about the various iterations of Percival?
  2. Did you like the gender-swapped approach to this story? How do you think this changed or impacted the tale as a whole?
  3. The writing in this book is very in line with the style found in many of the more traditional Arthur stories. How did this impact your reading?
  4. How familiar were you with the various Irish legends and folklore that wove in and out of this story?
  5. This is a novella, so it has a reduced page count from a typical novel. Did this seem to fit the story we have here? Would you have liked it to be longer or shorter? And if so, why? Were there parts you wanted to know more about or could have done without?

Reader’s Advisory

“Spear” is on these Goodreads lists: Amazons, Valkyries, and Warrior Women and Sapphic Retellings.

Next Book Club Pick: “The Raven and the Reindeer” by T. Kingfisher

Serena’s Review: “The Bone Shard Daughter”

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Book: “The Bone Shard Daughter”

Publishing Info: Orbit, September 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Review: Per the usual for me it seems, sometimes what it takes to get me to finally pick up a trilogy…is for that trilogy to end! Such is the case with this fantasy series. I had seen this one floating around on readings lists for a year or two now, but when Orbit sent out there titles for this spring and I saw the final book the trilogy was due to drop, I figured now was the time! So, let’s see what all the fuss has been about!

Lin continues to work day and night to earn the approval of her father and her place as the heir to his kingdom. But she is hindered by the large blank that is her memory past the point of a few years ago. She may not remember what happened in her past, but she knows that her future hinges on her ability to learn the magic behind her father’s ability to use bone shards to build the powerful magical constructs to allow their vast empire to run. And in other parts of the world, a smuggler who has been on a years-long search for his missing wife, runs across the darker price this bone shard magic extracts from the populace.

There was a lot to like about this book! The first thing that struck me was the interesting world-building and magic system at the heart of the story. And much of this information is unfurled slowly to the reader as one goes along, so there’s a sense of exploration and wonder as new layers of this world are pealed back. Things like the fact that the large islands that make up this empire move through the ocean in a way that must be carefully navigated by all those who travel between them. Hints that there may be more to the constructs than straight-forward magical tools that they seem to be. The discovery of magical creatures that are unknown to even the characters of this world. It made the reading experience, in a simple term, fun.

I also really liked the characters of the story. The POVs switch between four different characters, but Lin and Jovis, the smuggler, are by far the more main characters of the group. I really liked both of them; they each had solid character arcs and voices that lent excitement and interest to their chapters. Lin’s story is very much the heart of this book (as evidenced by the title of the book), but I almost found myself enjoying Jovis’s story the most. For one thing, he’s the one that ends up with the adorable, magical animal companion. And I’m always going to gravitate towards and adorable, magical animal companion. But his story was also full of adventure and danger, leading his chapters to feel fast-moving and action-packed. For her part, Lin’s story is much more one of self-discovery and the slow pealing back of the truths at the heart of her father’s dynasty. Due to her own lack of memories, it’s only naturally that her story plays out a bit slower.

But I also have to say I really didn’t understand the inclusion of the other two characters. They have something like 4-5 chapters between them in the entire book! And the chapters they did have I found frustrating to read. Each, in their own way, seemed to operate in a world of black and whites, neither able to understand the nuances of the other’s position (this was the classic romantic tension of one member being from an upper class and the other a lower). Neither character felt like they were bringing anything unique to the table, either to this conversation about societal structures (which I’ve seen done better) or to this book overall. As this is a trilogy, there’s a possibility that these two will gain importance in future books. But I wish the author had just introduced them then, instead of shoe-horning them in here in a way that left them feeling out of place. I’m not sure why authors are so nervous about doing this, adding characters in as they go, but it’s definitely possible and can definitely enhance a reading experience if done right!

The writing was also solid and neatly laid out themes of power, family, and the lengths we will go to for those we love. The story also ended in such a way that definitely left me eager to check out the next book. I can definitely see why this trilogy got off to such a great start and I recommend it to any fantasy reader who enjoys multi-POV fantasy stories with a strong focus on world-building.

Rating 8: Full of exploration and adventure, this fantasy novel arrives on the scene with a bang and leaves the reader aching for more by the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bone Shard Daughter” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Most unique, original, and interesting magical systems and Adult-targeted secondary-world fantasy with noteworthy heroines or female protagonists

Year of Sanderson: “The Well of Ascension”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“Year of Sanderson” is an on-going, monthly series that will post on the last Friday of each month in which I will cover various Brandon Sanderson-related things. This will largely be comprised of book reviews (some from his back catalog and some from the books being released this year), as well as assorted other topics like reviews of the items in the swag boxes that will be coming out as part of Sanderson’s Kickstarted campaign. Frankly, we’ll just have to see what we get from this series, very much like the Kickstarter itself!

Book: “The Well of Ascension” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, August 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The impossible has been accomplished. The Lord Ruler—the man who claimed to be god incarnate and brutally ruled the world for a thousand years—has been vanquished. But Kelsier, the hero who masterminded that triumph, is dead too, and now the awesome task of building a new world has been left to his young protégé, Vin, the former street urchin who is now the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and to the idealistic young nobleman she loves.

As Kelsier’s protégé and slayer of the Lord Ruler she is now venerated by a budding new religion, a distinction that makes her intensely uncomfortable. Even more worrying, the mists have begun behaving strangely since the Lord Ruler died, and seem to harbor a strange vaporous entity that haunts her.

Stopping assassins may keep Vin’s Mistborn skills sharp, but it’s the least of her problems. Luthadel, the largest city of the former empire, doesn’t run itself, and Vin and the other members of Kelsier’s crew, who lead the revolution, must learn a whole new set of practical and political skills to help. It certainly won’t get easier with three armies – one of them composed of ferocious giants – now vying to conquer the city, and no sign of the Lord Ruler’s hidden cache of atium, the rarest and most powerful allomantic metal.

As the siege of Luthadel tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

Previously Reviewed: “Mistborn”

Review: I have a very vivid memory of picking up this second book in the Mistborn trilogy. It was the second book I read by Brandon Sanderson, so I went into it with concerns that it would fall into the usual “second book syndrome” trap that so many books in series like these do. Of course, now, years (decades…oof) later, Sanderson has proven himself to be one of those few authors who really doesn’t often suffer from this sort of pacing problem over a long-running series. But at the time I didn’t know that.

While they have accomplished what many said was impossible, beating the Lord Ruler, Vin and her crew of rebels are discovering that running a city is an entirely different beast than organizing a revolution. So, too, while Elend has read about the ins ands outs of politics and religion, he suddenly feels out of his depth when asked to put these policies into play. What’s more, many others are seeing this time of instability as rife for their own accumulation of power. But Vin’s eyes are on something even more worrisome: the Mists are behaving strangely and powerful secrets are pointing towards a dark fate that she barely understands.

One thing I remember clearly about reading this trilogy the first time was just how out of my depth I felt with every additional book. In particular, I remember finishing up the second and then the third book and each time looking at the one that came before and thinking “Oh how quaint and simple that story was!” Indeed, each book built on the other in ways that are hard to describe. The first book really is a fairly straight forward adventure fantasy story. You have the big bad. You have the rebellion leader. You have the magical protégé. And yes, while there are several surprises in store (the death of said rebel leader), things play out in a fairly straightforward manner.

But then comes this book and with it a much more complicated tale. Not only do you have the realities of the aftereffects of a successful rebellion, but the world, history, and even biology itself are suddenly being given depths you’d never has expected from the first book. I really liked the former in particular, the exploration of the challenges that face those trying to rebuild government and society after the removal of a leader who had ruled for such a long time that the world itself seemed to turn around them. Sanderson grapples with the fact that often the very traits that would lead certain people to success with heading up this sort of revolution would not necessarily translate to the very different type of person needed to rebuild a world. Vin’s struggles with her changing role are very relatable, and the way that she uses the Mist and her abilities to both run away from these challenges but also explore mysteries that others don’t see were all intriguing. I also liked Elend’s story and how, even though he has his own struggles, without him Vin and her crew would have been really up a creek when dealing with this restructuring.

But beyond this, Sanderson goes into all of the increased world-building around the state of the world, the Mist, and the role the Lord Ruler played in it all. Like I said, the first book was very straightforward with how it presented all of this. But this book begins to peal back those layers and really dig into how society had come to be what it was. Not only the history of the the world itself, but how certain creatures, religions, and aspects of society were all built around these shifting norms. The last one hundred pages or so are really impressive with the sheer number of reveals and twists and turns.

I will say that the pacing is the one area where this book can feel a bit as if it’s brushing up against the dreaded “second book syndrome” thing. The first half, especially, really takes its time establishing where all are characters currently are, mentally, emotionally, and even physically, and then needs to spend a decent amount of page time getting them to where they need to be by the final climax of the story.

Rating 8: This book takes the promises given in the first book and then turns them on their head and inside out. And then ends with such a bang that it’s hard to imagine how I managed to survive the wait between book two and three way back when I read them originally!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Well of Ascension” is on these Goodreads lists: New Speculative Fiction Stars and SF/F Assassins!

Serena’s Review: “Divine Rivals”

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Book: “Divine Rivals” by Rebecca Ross

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish―into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.

Review: I really enjoyed Ross’s “Elements of Cadence” duology. It was lyrical, full of adventure, and centered a lovely romance at its heart. So it was a no brainer to place a request for her next novel when I saw it was due to arrive this spring. And while I don’t think this first book necessarily reaches the highs of that previous series, I did enjoy it a lot and I have high hopes for the next book in the series!

Several months ago, Iris’s life fell apart. Her brother felt compelled to join in a god’s war hundreds of miles away. Her mother fell into depression and alcoholism. And Iris was forced to drop out of school to support her family. Now, she works towards one goal: becoming a reporter for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the city. But she’s not the only one pursuing the position. Unknowing to her, her rival, a young man who is unfortunately as skilled a writer as he is frustrating, also happens to be the mysterious pen pal she found only by chance. But as the war becomes more and more real for Iris, she begins to realize that the world is much greater than she ever imagined, and her pan pal may be the only one who really understands her.

There was a lot to like about this book, but I think the book summary really buries the lead on the true strengths of this book. Yes, it starts out as a fairly standard work rivalry story alongside a sweet pen pal subplot. But about a quarter of the way in, things quickly shift and Iris travels to the front lines of the war. Here, the story really comes alive as it explores the experience of trench warfare and the experiences of those whose lives have been upended while living through a war that is taking place right outside their own front door. I really loved all that Ross had to offer in this part of the book.

This was all obviously a parallel to WWI, with similar tactics used, like trenches and the terrible use of vicous gases. But, of course, this is a fantasy novel, so the constant terror and threat of air raids were replaced by fantastical creatures that could target any town at any moment. I can honestly say that I can’t remember reading a fantasy novel that read anything like this one, and that was incredibly refreshing.

I also really liked Iris as a character. She was brave, but not foolish. Compassionate but also struggling with her conflicting emotions about a war that stole her brother away from her family. I also liked Roman Kitt, and, for the most part, the romance between the two. I think the title of this book does mislead a bit as far as the romance goes, however. The “rivalry” between these two barely warrants the term. Not only do we see very little of it, but it is quickly shunted to the side in favor of a completely cordial friendship building quickly towards romance. Indeed, an entire romantic arch from start to finish takes place within a fairly short period of the middle and end of the book. While I liked the love story, I kind of wish that it had been drawn out between this first book and the one to come. As it was, the romance just barely sidestepped becoming an instalove situation. It’s spared from this category only by the fact that, while quickly established, it does spend a good deal of time building up this relationship.

I also liked the idea of the feuding gods in this story, and the fact that the humans caught up in the war don’t have a full understanding of the history between these characters. But that also gets to my main issue with this book: in many ways it feels like an extended prequel. A very interesting and romantic prequel, but still. It was only towards the last quarter of the book that it really felt like the story got started. I still enjoyed my read overall, but I think the pacing was questionable, and perhaps, depending on how the next book goes, there might have been some better decisions to make with how this story was broken up. The one thing I can say for sure, the fact that the story really picks up towards the end of the book really leaves the reader primed for the second book. Despite a few quibbles here and there, I’ll definitely be right there in line to read the second one as soon as it’s available!

Rating 8: Lyrical and atmospheric, this book uses the fantastical to illustrate the horrors of war and the bravery of those who risk it all to save those they love.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Divine Rivals” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Working Women in Fantasy and Female fantasy authors – Children’s, YA and adult.

Kate’s Review (and Giveaway!): “The Twisted Dead”

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Book: “The Twisted Dead (Gravekeeper #3)” by Darcy Coates

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press, February 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Keira is ready for her life to return to normal. Though, to be fair, normal is a tall ask when your ability to see ghosts has landed you the job of groundskeeper in a small town’s cemetery.

When Keira receives an invitation to dinner at Dane Crispin’s crumbling ancestral estate, she knows she can’t refuse. The last living descendant of the Crispin family is reclusive. Keira only met him once…on the night he tried to kill her.

The mansion is steeped in history that is equal parts complicated and bloody. Keira senses the presence of restless spirits the moment she steps through its door. And Dane, waiting for her inside, wants to ask for her help.

Review: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me a copy of this novel!

We have come to the final entry in my reviews of Darcy Coates’s “Gravekeeper” Series! The most recent book, “The Twisted Dead”, is the third in what I hope is a long running series, and I was very eager to see where Coates was going to take ghost whisperer Keira and her sidekicks Mason, Zoe, and cat Daisy next. I feel like horror is a genre that doesn’t tend to have long running series as much as say romances or mysteries, so I’m quite pleased that we get to spend more time with this merry band of misfits. And “The Twisted Dead” is my favorite adventure yet!

Coates really knows how to balance out the more jovial and lighthearted tone of this series with genuinely creepy supernatural and ghostly moments and mythologies. We have picked up very close to where we left off with “The Ravenous Dead”, Keira having recently freed a shade (or malevolent and rage filled spirit) that had been tormenting the other ghosts in the cemetery, and now she has been invited to the home of Dane Crispin, local wealthy hermit who may or may not have tried to kill Keira, Mason, and Zoe. But instead of revenge or vendettas, Dane is instead needing her help, as he is being tormented by his own ghostly problem. And that is where we get into a new kind of spectral foe: parasitic ghosts that haunt people, not places. I love that Keira is finding new kinds of ghosts and the challenges that their differences present, and there are definitely descriptions and beats here that show how Coates, while doing a bit of a horror lite cozy ghost story with this series, knows how to conjure up some straight up nightmare fuel. And along with the not so friendly spirits, we still get to see the kinder and gentler spirits that Keira sees while in the cemetery, a few of them giving me moments of pure joy as I was reading (and also a moment or two of tears).

And the characters are still very engaging and interesting, and have really grown into their own and beyond their baseline impressions. I still really like Keira and her drive to help ghosts and those that are affected by them, and I like that we are starting to see more insight into the life that she cannot remember. Coates has introduced the mysterious corporation Artec, the group that Keira has been hiding from though she has no memories as to why, and I love that we get a little bit of corporate conspiracy and corruption on top of the supernatural themes. We still don’t REALLY know what the full endgame is for Artec and Keira’s full connection, but Coates has drawn out the suspense without falling into any frustrating traps of milking it too much. We also get to learn more about Mason’s past, and get to go a bit more into his secretive reasons for leaving medical school and coming back to Blighty. And then there’s Zoe, who has gone from making me a little nervous with her conspiracy peddling to being pretty darn endearing and fun without getting into ludicrous ‘quirky girl’ territory. Coates knows how to keep these characters fresh and keeps exploring their potential, and I really like their dynamic.

“The Twisted Dead” is the strongest entry in the “Gravekeeper” Series thus far. And now I am at the point where I have to wait to see what happens next. I can hardly wait.

And now the most exciting part! I’m giving away all three of the “Gravekeeper” Series books I’ve read and reviewed! So you can win not only “The Twisted Dead”, but also “The Whispering Dead” and “The Ravenous Dead”! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and runs through April 19th, 2023

Enter Here To Win!

Rating 8: With lots of things coming to light and a group of characters who are fully realized and comfortable in their characterizations, “The Twisted Dead” is the strongest “Gravekeeper” book yet!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Twisted Dead” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2023”.

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “He Who Breaks the Earth”

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Book: “He Who Breaks the Earth” by Caitlin Sangster

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2023

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

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Mateo spent years believing he suffered from a strange wasting sickness, but he’s finally learned the much darker truth. Now he will do whatever it takes to save himself, even if it means betraying Lia, the one girl who’s ever made him care about something more than his research.

It doesn’t help that his father kidnapped the last living member of Lia’s family, and though it means Mateo will get to see her again, it’s only because Lia is already hunting them.

Anwei’s rage can’t be contained after the disaster at the tomb that ended with Knox almost dying. Worse, she learned that the brother she’d been desperate to avenge has been living a life of luxury, raised by the monster of her nightmares. With the power of an ancient, nameless god running in her veins, Anwei vows to end the shapeshifter once and for all.

But the members of her crew each have their own motivations—and their own gods whispering in their ears. Anwei has never put much stock in the divine, but as she gets closer to the shapeshifter she’s chased for so long, she realizes that the gods’ plan and her own might diverge. But Anwei has only one goal: revenge, and she’ll destroy anyone standing in her way.

Previously Reviewed: “She Who Rides the Storm”

Review: I always love being able to read books in a series back-to-back. I suspect this inclination is the same as the one that has lead to the preference for binge watching shows for many viewers. I just want to sink into a world and stay there as along as I can. Also, as a SFF reader, many of the stories I consume require a decent amount of brain power and memory to fully understand the world and culture of the story. So there’s a premium to be found in not having to re-learn all of that from book to book when there’s a year plus waiting between stories. All of that to say, I was excited to jump right on to the second and final book in this duology after finishing up the first one.

After the explosive events at the end of the previous book, nothing is as it seemed. Anwei’s entire world has been shaken. Her brother, a beloved sibling whose “death” she has been trying to avenge for much of her life, has instead been alive and well living with her worst enemies. What’s worse, she almost lost Knox in the pursuit of this vengeance. But now her fury cannot be contained, and she vows to hunt down the shapeshifters who have so destroyed her life. For his part, her brother Mateo has had to face some harsh truths about his own existence. Now, both siblings will have to confront just how far they will go in the pursuit of their goals. And who they are willing to sacrifice along the way.

I was in a pretty good place to start this book coming off the last one. While the first book was quite a commitment, page-length-wise, this definitely felt like one of those reads that would benefit from a back-to-back read. For one thing, the pacing and reveals came hot and heavy towards the end of the first book, leaving most of character reeling from one discovery or near miss or another. There was a lot revealed, and I was excited to see how it would all be resolved here in the second book.

One of the things that has stood out from the very beginning of this read was the quality of the writing itself. It is clear that the author has a very clear vision for her characters, both their strengths and flaws. This last part, in particular, is difficult to pull off. How do you write characters who behave badly, who make selfish choices, who risk others in the pursuit of their own goals without alienating readers from those same characters who, ostensibly, are still the “heroes” of the story? But I think Sangster really has a handle on how to do this. As alluded to in the book description, both Anwei and Mateo face choices that will seem them prioritizing themselves and their goals over the ones they care about. However, the characterization is so solid that their decisions, even while questionable and, at times, incredibly poor, make sense within the realm of them both being flawed individuals.

I also still very much like the overall world-building and the use of shape-shifters. Shape shifters are the sorts of paranormal creatures that you rarely see, often falling to the side in favor of the ever popular vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. There were some interesting twists and turns to be found in this aspect of the story, as well. I also really liked the way the gods and their powers/connections with each character were used.

I will say that I some of my positive reception of this book could come down to the fact that I was able to read it immediately after the first one. For readers who have had to wait the full year, there is a lot of wading in that will likely need to be done to refamiliarize yourself with this world and the characters. As such, the pacing can also feel a bit slow and tedious at times. I do wonder, overall, whether this series and Sangster’s writing in general might have better translated to adult fantasy. I think some of the pacing and expansive world-building might have worked better with that audience than with younger readers who like faster moving stories.

Overall, if you enjoyed the first book, I think this is a good conclusion to the duology and will appeal to those fans. In general, readers who are looking for a more “meaty” YA fantasy, this might be a good read for you!

Rating 8: A solid conclusion to a unique YA fantasy duology, though the overall pacing might be slower than younger audiences may appreciate.

Reader’s Advisory:

“He Who Breaks the Earth” can be found on this Goodreads list: YA Novels of 2023.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Vol. 7”

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Book: “American Vampire: Vol. 7” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Matías Bergara (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, January 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Rafael Albuquerque bring together even more threads to the complex tapestry that is the world of American Vampire.

When we meet Pearl again, it is in 1960’s Kansas, an era fraught with fear of nuclear war, angry demonstrations and vast social change. But what has changed in the years since the V.M.S. attack? And where is Skinner Sweet?

Review: So we are now at the last volume of “American Vampire” that I read until I just kind of let it fall by the wayside. And as I was reading through it, I think I realized that I may not have actually finished “American Vampire: Volume 7” on my first read through, as I did not remember a lot of what I was reading beyond the first section. And I don’t really know why I didn’t keep going with it, because as I was reading this, I found myself really, really enjoying where the story was going. The new beginning was engaging, the stakes were raised, and what I thought was impossible actually came to pass: I. Actually. Liked. Skinner. Sweet.

I, too, was shocked. (source)

We have shifted into a new phase of “American Vampire”, and have entered the ending arc as well, and we start out very strong. It’s now the 1960s in America, about tenish-years after the Vassals of the Morning Star was dealt a big blow by Carpathians, after Pearl’s husband Henry’s death, and after Skinner disappeared after his betrayal. Pearl has returned to her family home in Kansas, and has started taking in runaway vampire children who are hiding from Carpathian vampires, and finds new, hidden homes for them with other vampires in hiding. She’s still connected with Cal, who is still working with VMS, and after getting hints of a man called The Gray Trader, they decide to look into what he is, and how it connects to the vampires. Meanwhile, Skinner has been making moves on the Mexican Border, but he, too, runs afoul something disturbing, so much so that he seeks out Pearl. So we have a new mystery, we have new trajectories for our favorite characters, and we have a new backdrop of the 1960s that was an incredibly restless and fraught era of change, violence, and social upheaval. Once again Snyder has managed to meld themes of America with his vampire mythology, and I was so here for it.

Pearl is still such a wonderful main character. Her grief for Henry still lingers, but she has persevered and has become a beacon of hope for vampire children, fighting off hostile neighbors and making a network of safety, and her reluctance to go back to the VMS is completely understandable. I like that she’s still close with Cal, and I love how she has been able to bring her warmth to the vampire children whilst also being VERY badass when the moment calls for it. And I think that it’s ultimately Pearl that makes Skinner Sweet work for me. It’s undeniable that they have some pretty heady chemistry, which I am always going to enjoy, but what’s interesting about Skinner is that he really does have an affection for Pearl that does seem to go beyond her resemblance to his old ladyfriend. It’s a bit cliché for the bad boy to be tamed by the love of a good woman, and by no means is Skinner redeemed in any way shape or form, but I do like seeing him recognize the help that Pearl can provide, and that he is actually being VULNERABLE and FALLIBLE and not just falling into old bullshit backstabbing that he has ALWAYS done up until now. We also leave him in an interesting state at the end here which raises a lot of questions about where his story is going to end.

And the new vampire lore is pretty interesting. We get some good body horror bits in this volume, some of which was pretty freaking squirm inducing for me and my various phobias/content I can’t handle too well hang ups. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it’s an even bigger threat than the characters have dealt with, and it’s very imposing and, while a little ridiculous in some ways, is a fresh new villain for the final arc of this series that has gone to so many crazy places. There is a fair amount of set up to be done here, but it’s done quickly and by the end of the volume there’s a solid jumping off point to go forward from. I am a little nervous about the fact we only have two volumes left after this to wrap it all up. Where are Felicia and Gus? What about the reveal of James Book being a vampire hidden away from the world? Will all of this be wrapped up well on top of the new Gray Trader storyline? I guess we’ll have to see. I’m optimistic as of now.

“American Vampire: Vol. 7” is a good start to the end of a sometimes messy but always entertaining series. I regret not finishing it up on the initial run, but now I just have something to look forward to, I guess! Let’s see where Pearl and Skinner go next.

Rating 8: An enjoyable start to a new and final cycle of vampire lore in the heart of American history, “American Vampire: Vol. 7” jumps into the fraught times of the 1960s and shows how fraught its protagonists are.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Vol. 7” is included on the Goodreads list “Vertigo Titles” Must Read Comics A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

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