Kate’s Review: “Final Girls”

32994321Book: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Subterranean Press, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears?

Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

I quite enjoy the “Newsflesh” Trilogy by Mira Grant. For one, it has zombies, which is almost always going to be something of a plus for me when it comes to my horror novels. But it’s also a pretty unique and tech based take of life after the zombie plague. So when Serena sent me some information about a new short story of Grant’s, called “Final Girls”, I was immediately intrigued. Grant likes to take common tropes and give them a tech-y spin. While sometimes I’m a little skeptical of short stories, just because so much has to be crammed into them in a smaller amount of pages to really pull them off, I had faith that Grant could do it. And she didn’t disappoint.

Even though this is a shorter piece, Grant did a really good job of describing the place and time without any of it feeling rushed. The time frame is kind of vague, but we do know that technology allows us to fall into a holodeck-like virtual reality where we can work through various emotional hang ups or relationships. The science is kept nondescript enough not to be bogged down by the science that may or may not ever come to fruition in this world, but it is detailed enough that it seems like it could feasibly happen in the nearish future. She also did a good job of establishing the main characters and their motivations, so I was never questioning why they did the things that they did. I could understand why Dr. Webb is so invested in her invention, and why she would have her whole faith in it and never question how it could go wrong. She is both brilliant and arrogant, cold yet empathetic. Esther, too, is someone whose motivations we can understand, even if her background is presented quickly and never hammered at over and over again. I think that the weakest characterization was that of the mysterious ‘assassin’ character, who drives the conflict of the story with her dangerous meddling. I understand why she would be doing the things she’s doing, but I think that had we explored more about the people who hired her, maybe I would have been more fully invested in her. As she was, she was just kind of the cold badass character. It works well in this story, though, so I can’t really complain about it too much.

I also liked the moral and ethical implications and questions this book raised. There are so many grey areas within the scientific world, and how far we can push experiments without treading on the rights of human and animal subjects. Even if there wasn’t a psychopathic assassin messing up a program and making it super dangerous (due to the stress levels and possibility to be scared to death), how ethical is it to put people in a terribly stressful situation in the name of therapy and relationship healing?

Also…. Zombies.

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My reaction to a well done zombie story. (source)

While sure, it may seem a bit old hat to bring zombies into this story given the “Newsflesh” series and everything, Grant is just so good at it that I don’t really mind. I’m not sick of zombies yet, so when this was the simulation I just grinned and leaned back, ready to enjoy it.

It’s a bit more than the usual zombie story, and “Final Girls” was a quick and engaging story that built up the suspense and delivered on the chills. But it also goes beyond the usual fare, and brings up good points about the responsibilities of science. It was a fun little read and I recommend it to zombie fans to be certain!

Rating 8: A quick paced and creepy little horror novella that raises questions about ethics and professional responsibility.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is a fairly new novella and isn’t on many lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Technothrillers and Sci-Fi”, and “Zombies Plus: Unconventional Zombie Novels”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

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

24561496Book: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” by Ellen Oh (Editor)

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Kate’s Thoughts

The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is one that I have been following for a bit now. Basically, it’s goal is to promote, publish, and highlight books by diverse authors, and tell stories of many different viewpoints and experiences, especially in children’s and young adult literature. When our dear friend and fellow librarian Alicia picked the short stories collection “Flying Lessons” for our book club, I threw it on my request list and got it almost immediately. I also happened to read it during the first attempt this administration made on implementing a travel ban into this country. So yeah, this felt like a very pertinent read, especially since the hope is that diverse books will build empathy to other experiences.

Like most short stories collection, it had some highs and lows. But luckily, it was mostly highs! I really liked the varied authors that contributed to this, and how they all offered so many different kinds of stories without feeling like a box was getting checked off. I expected no less from Ellen Oh, one of the instrumental members of We Need Diverse Books. I will focus on my two favorites.

“Sol Painting, Inc” by Meg Medina: I love the other books by Medina that I’ve read (“Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”; “Burn, Baby, Burn”), and I was very excited to see that she had a story in this collection. She does a great job of showing one snippet of a day in the life of Merci, Roli, and Mr. Sol, who are Latinx and have a family painting business. While Mr. Sol and and younger sister Merci really love this business, so much so that Merci wants to open her own home improvement empire someday, the elder brother, Roli, is starting to feel embarrassed by it, and would prefer to focus on science things. Medina does a great job of showing the discomfort that Roli has surrounded by his very white peers in a very white space when they go to paint the high school gym, in exchange for tuition for Merci. This story also feels very real in Merci’s voice, as she is the narrator. She doesn’t understand her brother’s self loathing or her father’s self sacrificing. This is probably the saddest story in the bunch, but it was my favorite.

“The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin: Lin takes us back in time to long ago China. It follows the story of Lingsi, a servant girl who is also educated, as it was her mother’s dying wish and her mistress, fearful of being cursed with bad luck, agreed. Lingsi and her house are traveling to try and find a wife for the only son of the family, a cruel and idiotic lout. But as they are traveling, they are attacked by pirates, and Lingsi finds herself in a very surprising situation. I loved Lin’s story telling in this one, as I could totally see everything and hear everything with perfect clarity. It was also neat seeing a surprising feminist twist within this story. No spoilers here. But let’s just say that there is a history of female pirates during this time period. This story was fun and definitely satisfying.

I really liked “Flying Lessons”, and I think that it’s a great collection of short stories that all kids will love.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m always a bit hesitant about short story collections for a few reasons. First is the same reason that Kate laid out earlier and is true to a certain extent with this one: there can be a variety in quality from one story to another which can be an off-putting reading experience. Secondly, writing a short story is a completely different beast than writing a novel, a fact that I think many authors tend to forget and that then leads to questionable short story collections. Publishers simply paste all the big author names together on one title and think it’s a clear win, with no understanding that many of the skills and traits that make an author successful as a novelist may not carry over to a short story collection.

So, with all of this in mind, I was hesitant about this book, especially as it was often marketed and sold on the fame of the authors’ works it included. But, while there were a few misses, I was happy with the collection as a hole and there were a few stories that particularly stuck out. Kate already discussed two of my favorites, but I’ll throw in a third.

“The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist: This story follows Isaiah Dunn, a young boy coping with the death of his father and with his mother’s subsequent fall into alcoholism. Just with that short description, you know going in that this was one of the heavier titles in the book. But this story was so incredibly powerful for it! Grief itself is a huge subject, but the story also touches on so many other factors that all get swirled together in a the life-changing impact that comes with the loss of a parent. The trying economic situation of the family, the mother’s coping method, and the hope that can be found amidst it all is beautifully illustrated in this tale. I particularly appreciated the rather meta use of the power of stories that is brought to being in this story after Isaiah finds a old book of his father’s stories. Isaiah’s voice is also particularly strong, effectively portraying the innocence of childhood but never short-changing his ability to deeply understand the world around him.

As Kate said, there were a few weaker stories included, but even these would likely be well-received by the middle grade target audience of this book. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection and its ability to tell important stories without falling under the weight of too much “agenda.”

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun, touching, and varied collection of stories from some of the best children’s and YA authors out there.

Serena’s Rating 8: What else should we have expected from this strong collection of children’s/YA authors? Its strength lies largely in the variety of stories included, both in tone and subject matter.

Book Club Questions:

1.) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2.) Were there any stories that didn’t work for you as well?

3.) This book sets out to present a very diverse collection of stories. Are there any perspectives that you felt were missing?

4.) Were you familiar with any of these authors before? Did any of them have particular writing strengths that appealed to you?

5.) A lot of thought goes into the order in which stories are arrange din a short story collection. Were there any changes you would make to this line up and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flying Lessons and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”, and “YA Short Stories and Collections”.

Find “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

Emily’s Corner: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!
284066Book: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami

Publishing Info: Originally published in three parts between 1994 and 1995, the English translation was published in 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: A gift from a friend in book club

Book Description: In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat.  Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.  As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria. Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.

Review: My book club did something a little different for our January read. Instead of reading the same book, we each picked out our favorite novel and did a book swap. (My pick was The Blue Castle, of course.)

The book I received was “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” by Haruki Murakami. Our book club had read his earliest work “Wind/Pinball” together, so I was delighted to receive a more recent publication. Murakami is one of those maddening geniuses who knocked it out of the park on his first try writing a novel. I had high expectations for “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and it did not disappoint.

A word on Murakami’s writing style; he takes the most mundane, ordinary situations and makes them riveting. Case in point, I started the book during Christmas break while visiting my parents. My dad asked what I was reading and I said something along the lines of “it’s about a guy and his wife, and the wife has a cat, and it goes missing, and she’s upset with the husband for not caring, so he goes to look for it, and it’s all about this tension in their marriage . . .”

Dad cut me off. “That sounds boring.”

Boring this is not! Murakami takes this story and twists it, wrenches it, in fact. It turns into this surrealist, cerebral adventure that takes on an otherworldly quality without losing its grasp on reality. It was exhausting trying to keep up and yet I couldn’t put it down.

The story twists and turns from the perspectives of the man and his search for his wife who mysteriously vanishes along with the cat, a precocious teenager so fascinated by death that she almost commits murder, bloody flashbacks to the power struggles and mind games of war-torn Manchuria, eerie sisters whose magical talents are the hub of the story, a villain who controls his victims by mentally raping and trapping them in an otherworld, and a wealthy but strange mother-son duo named after baking spices.

I get it. This sounds like an acid trip. This is not a story that you can explain by saying “and then such-and-such happened.” And for sure it is a far cry from the “man looks for lost cat” opening.

That is what is magical about Murakami; he takes you on such a slow and winding journey, where everything makes sense until it doesn’t. You look back to see how far you have come, almost unable to believe that a story about a lost cat could turn into the most violent, most beautiful, most moving thing you’ve read in years.

This book isn’t so much about the story, though it is truly a riveting story. It’s about Murakami’s way with words. He is unlike any author I’ve encountered, writing about daily activities like boiling pasta and ironing shirt collars in such a way that they become intensely beautiful rituals. Something as simple as climbing down a dry well becomes an out-of-body experience, for both the protagonist and the reader. I was gasping by the end of that chapter.

There is a horrifying torture scene, and while I normally have a very low tolerance for this sort of thing, I couldn’t help but be entranced by how Murakami achieved a level of grace and beauty in it. I was trapped between being appalled and being fascinated.

For me, Murakami’s work is about experiencing his way with words just as much as it is about getting caught up in a good story.

Rating 8: While this is one of the most incredible books I’ve read in a while, my squeamishness over the aforementioned torture scene and some terribly awkward phone sex kept this from getting a higher score. Still, this is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the cerebral/magical realism genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Magical Realism” and “Mind Twist.”

Find “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The Burning World”

16148435Book: “The Burning World” by Isaac Marion

Publication Info: February 2017, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: R is recovering from death.

He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.

But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind.

Review: This book came into the publishing world like a new Beyonce album: no word, and then suddenly it appears! I highlighted this book as one that I was looking forward to reading, but also with a bit of trepidation. “Warm Bodies” was such a beautiful, funny little book that opened and closed so neatly that the thought of a sequel had honestly never even crossed my mind. So, while I was excited to re-visit this world, especially in the aftermath of Julie and R’s discovery of re-animating (?) zombies back to humans, I was a bit concerned that it was going to succumb to sequel-itis and bring nothing new to the table while negatively impacting the brilliance of the original. And while there were a few rough patches, particularly in the beginning, I am pleased to report that Marion’s expansion to his world and series is well fleshed (ha!) out!.

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You can’t stop this laugh train! (source)

“The Burning World” picks up a few months after the events of “Warm Bodies,” and things aren’t going as smoothly as Julie and R had hoped re: reintroducing the zombies into society. I mean, in the movie version of the first book, the zombies and humans are literally playing baseball together and sharing umbrellas in the end. This book quickly does away with any of these happy fantasies. Turns out people aren’t quite as easy to convince that beings that used to kill and eat their brains are really just uber repressed people who need to reconnect with their feelings if only they’d give them all a chance! Even R himself, the protege of this whole zombie-transformation-movement is struggling with the reality of this transition. When he was cured, mobility, language, and most especially, memory didn’t suddenly just reappear. They’ve all had to be tediously re-learned, and when the story begins, it is clear that he’s hit a bit of a wall.

When I made my admittedly very bad pun about fleshing out the world, that is probably the most notable aspect of this book. Marion takes his rather simplistic little zombie world and really goes crazy with it. Half the appeal of “Warm Bodies” was the complete lack of importance that was given to the history of the world. Something went wrong, zombies appeared, and this is the hell everyone is now living in. No explanation necessary. Doing away with this charm was a risky move, but a challenge that Marion proves to be up to meeting. Not only do we get details into R’s own history, but through his patchy and slowly returning memories (present in flashbacks interspersed throughout the story) we see how broken the world really was. If anything, the world of “Warm  Bodies” was a step in the right direction from what had come before! Fractions and zealots fought for power, religion and business warred to control the minds of the people, and zombies were almost an after thought to the craziness.

One particularly, albeit smaller, detail that was brought to the table was the reality of what transforming from a zombie that can’t be killed by anything less than a shot to the head into a person entails. Nora’s story comes to the forefront as a nurse attempting to treat these re-emerging injuries. If you’re shot as a zombie, you don’t heal. Becoming human again doesn’t magically do away with life-ending injuries. This brought a level of seriousness to the procedure that I hadn’t expected, and one that is tied into a major plot line for Julie later in the book.

Most of the plot involves an airplane roadtrip across America. Julie’s home is invaded by a shadowy group with whom R is having strange kindlings of memories, forcing them to go on the run. Mixed in with the expanded world (which cities fell, which cities burned, which came up with their own rule of law), our heroes are faced with the constant question of what future they are running towards: one in which they fight or one in which they flee. I loved how these questions are never approached with an obvious answer. The characters on either side make valid arguments, and though as a reader I knew what the ultimate decision would be, I appreciated the fact that other survival techniques were not poo-pooed away.

So, I really did love much of the book. The expanded world, the added characters, R’s complicated history. However, there were a few setbacks. In the beginning especially, I felt as if the writing was a bit stilted and trying too hard as far as philosophical musings go. “Warm Bodies” hit just the right balance in this regard, and I felt like “The Burning World” suffered from the weight of expectations. Once the story really gets going, there’s enough of a structure to hang these existential musings upon, but in the beginning it just felt tedious and a bit forced.

Secondly, there was a strange “We” character that would show up between chapters. Even by the end of the book, I’m not sure what I was supposed to be getting from these chapters. And it’s not like there were only a few! There were pages of this stuff, and much of the same tedious philosophical ramblings would be crammed into this section with no character or story to really focus on. About midways through we meeting a zombie boy who becomes something of a character in these bits, but the whole thing still feels very strange and disconnected from the story. Presumably it’s building towards some sort of reveal in the final third book in this series, but in this one it felt like a distraction and an unwarranted break in the main plotline’s action.

And on that note, there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. Nothing intolerable, in my opinion, but it does end in a manner that requires a follow up read to really reach any type of resolution to both the story and character arcs. But, luckily, this was a strong enough sequel that I’m all in for the next and last book!

Rating 8: A solid, surprise follow up to a story that, previously to this, I had been happy enough seeing as complete!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Burning World” is newly released and thus not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on  “Zombies!” and should be on “Apocalypses and Dystopias.”

Find “The Burning World” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “Ghostly Echoes”

28110857Book: “Ghostly Echoes” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016

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

Book Description: Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Review: Trekking right along with my read through of the Jackaby series, “Ghostly Echoes” starts off basically right where “Beastly Bones” leaves off. Jenny, the local friendly ghost whose murder has went unsolved for a decade, has finally decided to take things into her own hands. Literally. She actually learns how to pick up things. But this is an important step, and one that coincides with the return of murders that seem to match the M.O. of her own assailant many years ago.

This book represents an interesting turning point in the series so far. Up to this point, the books have been largely stand-alone novels. Sure, a few things will be referenced here and there, but very few plot lines carry through directly from one book to the other. However, in the last book, Ritter laid the groundwork for a “big bad” to best all “big bads.” And one who had been operating in the background all along. Here, we find this is very true, with the plot lines from not only its direct prequel, “Beastly Bones,” but also from the first book in the series, “Jackaby,” being tied together to a larger mystery.

However, this book was very hit and miss for me, tonally. Ritter was essentially wanting to have his cake and eat it too with this one. The larger plot line and mystery were intriguing. Both Jenny’s burgeoning abilities to operate in the real world, the murders that seem so similar to her own, and the clues that begin to point to a strange organization that is operating with its own nefarious agenda were interesting. There was a lot to get through just with this main story line.

But Ritter had also to pay off the set-up he had built with the previous two books where readers expect to find wit, strange beasts, and madcap adventures. All of these bits, while good, seemed to fit in strangely with the more serious tone of this book. I found myself getting pulled one way and the other when the book would veer back and forth between the main story and the smaller interactions that, while important to the overall plot, felt more light and oddly out of line with the rest of the story.

As I mentioned in my last review of the series, the story is at its best when the character of Jackaby is used sparingly. He did have more page time in this story than the last, but this book also did a lot of work building up his past and making him into a more three dimensional character with deeper inner struggles than the simple “wacky Doctor-like” character he has been presented as for the last two books. I was happy to see him becoming more of a character than a plot point.

Towards the end, Ritter did seem to find his footing a bit better, sending Abigail off on an adventure of her own. However, Abigail probably was the least served character by this change of pace to the series. As I mentioned above, Jackaby’s past and character are fleshed out more fully. Jenny becomes an actual character in her own right beyond simply being a friendly ghost and friend to Abigail. But Abby herself? Largely it just feels like she was there to narrate the story to us. And while she does get her own action, it is only that: action. There didn’t feel like there was a lot of character development for her in this book, which I sadly missed. Also Charlie! He was barely there!

So, in conclusion, this book was a bit of a mixed bag. I very much liked the added depth that was given to the greater story line that now pulls through all the books in the series. And Jackaby himself is a more intriguing character now that it has been revealed that he is more than just a quirky, gimmick. But my favorite character, and the main character of the series, was left dangling a bit. And tonally, the book was a bit all over the place, teetering between a more serious larger plot line, and the expected wackiness established in the first two books.

The next and final book comes out this summer, however, and I am still excited to see how Ritter wraps up this all up!

Rating 7: Some imbalanced highs and lows make for a mixed bag read, but still a strong series overall!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostly Echoes” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Historical Mysteries”and should be on this list “YA Mythology Challenge.”

Find “Ghostly Echoes” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “Jackaby” and “Beastly Bones”

Serena’s Review: “Silver on the Road”

20748097Book: “Silver on the Road” by Laura Anne Gilman

Publishing Info: Saga Press, October 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel makes the choice to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. But this is not the devil you know. This is a being who deals fairly with immense—but not unlimited—power, who offers opportunities to people who want to make a deal, and makes sure they always get what they deserve. But his land is a wild west that needs a human touch, and that’s where Izzy comes in. Inadvertently trained by him to see the clues in and manipulations of human desire, Izzy is raised to be his left hand and travel the circuitous road through the territory. As we all know, where there is magic there is power and chaos…and death.

Review: You know you read a lot of a specific genre when you begin to recognize cover art artists! So, while I would like to say that I first looked at this book based on its amazing premise, the truth is that the cover artist has also done covers for some of my other favorite fantasy reads, so those books just immediately leap out at me whenever I’m browsing through lists. But, books are not their covers and all of that, so the unique premise was ultimately what landed this one for me as worth checking out. And, while there were a few frustrations here and there, all told, I very much enjoyed this book as a refreshing change of pace for fantasy fiction.

Honestly, with so much of urban fantasy and historical fantasy starting to feel tired and weighed down by too many tropes, it’s shocking that the concept of alternative Western fantasy hasn’t struck home more fully. What an untapped setting and part of history! And this alternative American Wild West was really the major strength of the book.

In this version of history, the West (essentially anything that would have been gained in the Louisiana Purchase in true history) is literally wild, kept in check only by the mysterious and half-fabled Devil who rules the Territory. The true essence and character of the Devil is never fully explored, whether he is the actual Devil from a Biblical sense, or whether this is a name he has acquired from magic-fearing folk who don’t know what else to call him. At a certain point, I simply began associating him with the type of Devil character you hear/read about in folk tales (like the  Devil in the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”)

But this is a good example of the type of “go with it” mentality that is necessary for this book. There are many questions raised and very few answers given. This could be frustrating at times, particularly when I got to the end and realized some of them would be left unanswered completely. But with the world-building itself, it was easier to simply stop trying to over-analyze and simply enjoy immersing oneself in it instead.

Izzy, a young woman who has worked at a tavern alongside the Devil her whole life, is recruited by him to travel the Territory as his Left Hand. Here, too, there was not a lot of clarification. Izzy is simply set out into the world alongside Gabriel, a travel-worn companion who knows the hidden paths and pitfalls of the Territory and who has stuck his own mysterious bargain with the Devil (more unanswered questions!). What she can do, how she can do it, and even when she should do it are all unknowns to her and us.

I very much enjoyed these two characters and their expedition, however. This is a very slow burn novel, and much of the page time is spent with these two on the road, basically wandering from one place to another. Only towards the very end of the book do the small plot points that have been stumbled upon really begin to come together to form any type of unified conflict and arc. For those looking for a more tight story with a more natural progression of learned information, this book may be a struggle. I was able to attach myself strongly enough to the character development of Izzy and Gabriel that most of this was ok by me. I also, personally, very much enjoy hiking and discovering new parts of the world around bends in roads. So, for me, the meandering approach to storytelling that was largely just a roadtrip on a horse was appealing.

I very much enjoyed this book. However, for some it may read as slow and the unanswered questions could be frustrating. I had a fairly laid back approach to this, knowing there was a sequel that was just published, but even I found myself frustrated at times. Izzy’s powers are so undefined, even at the end, that while I know that progress was made in this book (a conflict was resolved and all), it still felt like Izzy herself had very far to go. And Gabriel’s past is still very much a large question mark. But I’m on board enough to want to read the next one where hopefully some of this will be answered!

Rating 8: What could be a slow, frustrating read, was saved by a truly unique setting in a fantastical, alternative American West.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silver on the Road” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Fantastic American West” and “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Find “Silver on the Road” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City”

7599985Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” by Warren Ellis and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo Comics, July 2001

Where Did I Get This Book: I own in!

Book Description: Continuing the acclaimed tale of the day-to-day trials and tribulations of Spider Jerusalem, this fifth installment has the no-holds-barred investigative reporter delving into the city’s police corruption. Living in an anti-utopian future, Spider continues his quest to expose society’s injustices as he focuses his attention on those sworn to protect and serve. But even more so than usual, he will learn that his dedication to the truth can come at a high physical cost, especially when dealing with the riot police. Featuring an introduction by actor Patrick Stewart.

Review: I really have to pat Warren Ellis on the back, because boy has this re-read of “Transmetropolitan” felt so relevant and timeless. I’m now halfway through the volumes, and every time I pick one up I say to myself “Boy, this sure feels like the stuff that’s going on in today’s world of politics and government.” The journey of Spider, Channon, and Yelena continues to be absurd and over the top in a lot of ways, be it the cyber punk setting or the various side characters and plots that involve genetic mutants, crazy technology, and a crazed society. But at the very heart of it, there is always truth and relatable heart. And “Lonely City” is no exception, as it tackles the question of the Free Press, and Police Brutality. Like I said. Familiar.

It’s kind of funny how these stories are so over the top, and yet there is that grain of truth to them. It starts out innocently enough, this collection, with Spider and his Filthy Assistants deciding to take on a Senator who is caught up in a potential sex scandal. It’s a move that they’ve done before, and how they usually operated when The Beast was President. It’s humorous and it’s fun watching them pursue this guy relentlessly, knowing that he’s going to expose corruption and hypocrisy, all because of a new invention called a G-Reader, which can read genome structures and genetic code on any individual. For Spider he can read where this Senator has been, based on what he left behind on a number of prostitutes. But the G-Reader is also used by a gang of thugs to read the genetic make-up of someone who they then beat to death (because Lockwood, the victim, had modified his genome in a way that is considered ‘perverse’. It’s hard to explain in full here so just think of it as a hate crime). The same machine used in two totally different ways, the ups and downs of technology. Spider, Channon, and Yelena decide to take on the story of Lockwood, and why the police are being so cagey about it.

And what happens next is yet again an example of me completely forgetting parts of this series that are now blowing me away.

Ellis does a great job of portraying a corrupt system from top to bottom, from the White House to the precinct house. Because when Spider, Channon, and Yelena find themselves the targets of a dangerous plot (which I won’t spoil here), and hope to expose just how far it goes….. they are stymied by the White House, who makes Spider’s paper crush the story. Up until this point, Spider has always had the Truth to rely on, and his ability to move that truth from his screen to the masses of the public. Even under The Beast such truths were not suppressed, making Spider an enemy, yes, but an enemy with a voice. Now, however, he doesn’t even have that. And once again, we leave this collection on a bit of an “Empire Strikes Back” kind of moment. A moment that, after certain news outlets have been shut out of White House Press briefings in retaliation for the stories they run with, feels all too resonant and really hit me in the gut as I turned the last page.

Spider’s character is slowly evolving as well. He still has that cocky and manic swagger about him, confident in his role as truth teller and remaining both a Greek Chorus and Shakespearean Fool to the story. But he’s also starting to crack. The Smiler has a very tiny role in this one, but even if he makes no appearance his power and influence is everywhere. This world that Spider lives in is changing, and it’s changing for the absolute worse. And he’s finding himself more and more powerless to fight against it.

I also wanted to note, just for funsies, that the introduction to this volume (at least the copy I have) was written by Patrick Stewart! Apparently he’s a “Transmetropolitan” fan, which really made me smile. But he also completely sums up exactly what it is about this series that I love.

“I know this City, I have read The Word, I have listened to these politicians, I have smelt the stink of greed, I have thrown things at the TV, I have wondered what future there is for Truth and Beauty. I have wanted to go and live on the top of a Yorkshire moor… Warren, tell Spider to stay healthy and keep writing the column.”

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(source)

“Transmetropolitan” continues to strive for that truth and beauty, even when it gets super dark. That’s what I love about this series.

Rating 8: This definitely has it’s moments of fun and humor, but also has some good and chilling commentary on the importance of the free press in a corrupt society. “Transmetropolitan” continues to feel all too familiar and real in today’s political climate!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” can be found on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Books That Make You Vomit With Joy”(?).

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”.