Kate’s Review: “Meddling Kids”

32905343Book: “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: For fans of John Dies at the End and Welcome to Night Vale comes a tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft. The surviving members of a forgotten teenage detective club (and their dog) must reunite as broken adults to finally solve the terrifying case that ruined them all and sent the wrong man to prison. Scooby Doo and the gang never had to do this!

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

Review: Though I was definitely more of a “Pup Named Scooby-Doo” viewer as a child, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” was definitely a show that I was pretty familiar with thanks to visits to Grandma’s house and the local video store. I can’t say that I have a huge nostalgia for it, but it’s enough of a cultural icon that I am familiar with it and all the references, tropes, and influences that come with it. When my friend David sent me this book title on Facebook, I was immediately intrigued. Given that I love send ups of classic shows like “The Venture Bros”, “Sealab 2021”, and “Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law”, I was stoked to see that FINALLY someone decided to take on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You” and add in some Lovecraftian horror elements to boot.

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The start of way too many “Scooby-Doo” gifs. (source)

To start, I really enjoyed how Cantero took the characters that we are oh so familiar with and gave them some serious issues, issues that would make perfect sense for a bunch of kids who chased after criminals. Meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club: Kerri (Velma) was an incredibly smart girl, a genius, but has ended up an alcoholic tending bar. Andy (I think she’s supposed to be a inverted Daphne? She doesn’t really fit) was the tomboy of the group, who went on to get military training but is now on the run from the law. Nate (Shaggy) was the geeky and carefree one, but has voluntarily committed himself to Arkham Asylum (of Lovecraftian fame, not “Batman”)… Mainly because he keeps seeing Peter (Fred), who died of a drug overdose a few years prior. Throw in Tim (Scooby-Doo), the canine descendant of their original group, and there you have it. I liked how Cantero explored the damages that their friendship and group wrought upon them. Seeing all of these broken people try to come back together to fight the one case they didn’t quite solve was bittersweet and heavy, and I really appreciated that Cantero explored how a scenario like this may go. Kerri and Andy have a deep bond, stemming from childhood when Andy was almost in love with Kerri, and seeing them reconnect is very sweet, even if it feels like doom could come for them at any time. Nate’s struggle with his mental illness is also very revealing, though at times you are kind of wondering if maybe Peter’s ghost really is with him. After all, if monsters are real, why not this? They all need each other as much as they wish they didn’t, and that was both lovely and tragic because at the heart of it they are all survivors of a terrible trauma, and they need to confront it before they can move on with their lives. Cantero does a great job of reminding us that they were kids when this terrible stuff happened to them, and that sometimes you can’t just walk away and that’s the end of the story. Sometimes it’s not just a kook in a mask.

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This is so dated but I had to. (source)

I also really liked that Cantero has taken the ol’ chesnut that is Lovecraft and has applied it to this kind of story. Given that the original “Scooby-Doo” always ended with the villain being a plain old person in a mask, for them to be facing actual monsters and magic is SUPER fun, and at times genuinely creepy. From lake monsters that decompose at an alarming rate to mysterious books and words in an attic, Cantero has really taken the inter-dimensional horror theme and given it a fun little spin here. It’s meta as well as creepy and weird, and it’s just different enough that I wasn’t feeling like he was trying too hard to make two different themes fit together. He also did a good job of retaining the plausible explanation theme, as while a guy in a mask isn’t a solution, there are other natural disasters that pose just as much risk to these people as the supernatural creatures. That isn’t to say that this book is just doom and gloom and a Nolan-like take on “Scooby-Doo”. As a matter of fact, this is not only kind of sad, at times it’s a VERY funny book. The snide and sarcastic banter between the characters had me in stitches, as well as the occasional insight into Tim’s doggie mind (his love for a toy penguin, for example, is delightfully whimsical when it’s from his POV).

That isn’t to say that it was a perfect book. I will admit that I had a hard time with some of the stylistic choices, as it could jump from a novel narrative to a playwright’s dialog in the same scene, even the same breath. I found it to be a bit distracting, but it was never so jarring that I had to stop. I also do kind of question some of the influences that Cantero took from, specifically that sometimes it felt like he was kind of appropriating some indigenous legends, even if he put his own spin on them in the end. It kind of treaded the line, and while I don’t think that he ever really crossed it, I’m no expert. I would probably have to do more research and get other people’s opinions on the matter.

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Or perhaps I should say look for clues… (source)

Overall, I really liked “Meddling Kids” and think that it’s both super fun and super creative. I also liked how it took the familiar tropes of a beloved series and spun them on their head.

Rating 8: Both a nostalgic send up and solid adventure/horror story, “Meddling Kids” brings some real world insight and consequences to a group of former teen detectives with heart and scares.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Meddling Kids” is included on the Goodreads lists “Counter-Lovecraft”, and “Nerdventure”.

Find “Meddling Kids” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.4): Queens”

35500613Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.4): Queens” by Marguerite Bennett, Laura Braga (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), and Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The explosive creative team of writer Marguerite Bennett (BATWOMAN) and artists including Laura Braga (Witchblade), Mirka Andolfo (Ms. Marvel) and Marguerite Sauvage (Faith) bring an all-new chapter in the acclaimed alternate-history saga inspired by the hit DC Collectibles in DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 4: QUEENS.

Technology and terror form an unholy alliance in a world at war, and only the heroines known as the Bombshells can shut it down!

As World War II rages around them, Batwoman, Catwoman and Renee Montoya take a journey to Africa to get help from an old ally: Vixen, Queen of Zambesi and co-founder of the Bombshells.

But they’re not alone. The lethal Cheetah has her claws out, and she’s digging them directly into a forbidden site: the dwelling place of the mechanical gods, whose incredible powers could spell triumph for the Reich and the destruction of all that the Bombshells hold dear.

Now Vixen, her fellow Bombshells founder Hawkgirl and the rest of the squadron must face their biggest threat yet! Can this brilliant but beleaguered African queen count on the support of a fellow royal-Wonder Woman-to turn the tide?

Find out in DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 4: QUEENS. This volume contains the debuts of Vixen and Hawkgirl-and the secret origin of the Bombshells! Collecting issues #19-24.

Review: As you all know, I really really REALLY love the “DC Bombshells” series because damn does it give my favorite superheroines something to do. There is something so organically feminist about this series, and it keeps the thrills, action, humor, and pathos balanced out expertly. Seeing some of the best and brightest DC ladies at the forefront is a delight, and whenever a new one comes out I can’t wait to read it. We are now on Volume 4, and after an action packed Volume 3 in which the Nazis were dealt a severe blow by our Bombshells, we’ve moved the action to North Africa and been introduced to Vixen and Hawkgirl! Also mechanical animals and Cheetah, aka the woman who killed Batgirl and Renee’s adopted son Jacon!

I sometimes get worried when new characters get brought into the fold in comics, especially since sometimes I have a hard time keeping track of characters as it is. But with “Bombshells” I am always excited to see which classic heroines will show up next and in what capacity, and Vixen and Hawkgirl were no exception. Vixen (aka Mari) was especially great, as we got to see her stand up to Hitler and steal his dog Blondie, as well as see her in a position of power as the Queen of Zambesi. She and Hawkgirl (who is delightfully tech minded and a very clever inventor) also helped found The Bombshells, so we got to see them interact with the team they created, as well as interact with each other as confidants, partners, and lovers. I think that ultimately the relationships between the women in these stories are the strongest parts of them, and these two fit right in in that regard. I liked seeing more interaction and background between Kate (aka Batgirl) and Renee as they faced their past relationship and the death of Jacon, but I have to admit that I’m kind of not digging the fact that Kate seems to have completely forgotten about Maggie back on the home front. Sure, Batwoman and Renee Montoya have a shared past and a shared pain, but Maggie is Kate’s present.

Speaking of Maggie, we got a fun story back on the homefront with the Batgirls again. I had thought that they were going to be a one-off story, seeing as so much is going on with the Bombshells in Europe, but I really liked seeing them and Lois get some more time to shine. I think that my favorite aspect of it is the way that their presence is handling some familiar storylines. And with that, I give you a

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(source)

I think I mentioned that Harvey (eventually Two Face) Dent was in the previous Batgirls storyline as a mayor who was promoting an “America First” agenda. Well, he eventually got over that and had become an ally to the Batgirls, with self reflection and redemption on the mind. But given that Harvey really does have to turn into Two Face, I braced myself for it, and indeed, it does happen in this collection (won’t say how, but it does). Ever since I read the classic “Long Halloween” story arc, I’ve felt so incredibly bad for Two Face and the road that he takes, and I was worried that it was going to happen here as well. After all, Batman couldn’t help him in that universe, so my hope was slim. But in this one….. he doesn’t take the road to villainy, at least he hasn’t yet. Because while yes, he’s been horrifically scarred and has had something of a fall from grace, The Batgirls have done what Batman never could: they have rallied around him and affirmed that he is still Harvey Dent, imperfect but trying to be better Harvey Dent, and that they are going to support him and be there for him. And it seems that because of this, he’s MAYBE going to stay on the side of good, and remain their ally and friend. Cheesy? Maybe. But I think that it’s also a testament to the power of empathy and understanding towards those who have experienced trauma, something that Batman just couldn’t ever pull off the way that a bunch of awesome ladies can. The last panel of the Batgirls embracing him got me like

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I have so many feels. (source)

But all that said, I was a bit disappointed seeing that the big problem to overcome this time around was a group of mechanized animals from another planet. I liked the Zambesi setting to be certain, but it felt like a whole lot more conflict crammed into a story that is already rife with conflict. Plus, given that it’s more ‘Nazis want to get their hands on otherwordly weaponry’ stuff, it kind of feels like more of the same. The good news is that we get a couple returns here, including Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Supergirl, all of whom I dearly missed in the last collection. I just wish that we could have seen more Wonder Woman and Supergirl (seriously, Kara was barely in this), before the last fourth of the book.

So while this is the weakest “Bombshells” collection for me so far, it’s still incredibly strong and I can’t wait for the next one. And I think I only have to wait a little while longer for that!! “DC Bombshells”, you still got it!

Rating 8: While I enjoyed the new characters quite a bit and the Batgirls story was heartwarming, I wasn’t totally sold on mechanical animal fights, and wish that Wonder Woman and Supergirl had been in it more.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.4): Queens” isn’t on many Goodreads list at this time. But it is included on “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and would fit in on “Female Power Comics”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.4): Queens” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “DC Bombshells (Vol 1): Enlisted!”, and “DC Bombshells (Vol 2): Allies”, and “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising”.

Movie Review: “It” (2017)

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out the movie world as well. And perhaps you thought that this had fallen to the wayside, this movie review thing. Well, not anymore, as how could Kate pass up the chance to talk about one of her favorite horror novels and the movie that took it on. Today Kate reviews “It” with a special guest host, her friend Laura. We talk about our history with the book and Stephen King in general, the propensity for strange tween girls to binge on his stories, and the differences between the movie, the miniseries, and the book that they both took their inspiration from (all while I positioned the camera awkwardly. My bad!). Stay tuned until the end to see our book recommendations if you liked the movie (titles also listed below).

Laura’s Recommendations:

17406545“NOS4A2” by Joe Hill

 

 

 

25533076“Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 

 

 

Kate’s Recommendations:

54607“Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury

 

 

 

9897624“Summer of Night” by Dan Simmons

Kate’s Review: “The Changeling”

31147267Book: “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle

Publishing Info: Spiegel & Grau, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: One man’s thrilling journey through an enchanted world to find his wife, who has disappeared after seemingly committing an unforgiveable act of violence, from the award-winning author of the The Devil in Silver and Big Machine. Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air. 

Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts. Apollo then begins a journey that takes him to a forgotten island in the East River of New York City, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest in Queens where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. This dizzying tale is ultimately a story about family and the unfathomable secrets of the people we love.

Review: Victor LaValle is one of our most under-appreciated dark fantasy/horror writers today, and I say this with conviction. Everything I have read by him I have really enjoyed. I was sufficiently creeped out by “The Devil in Silver” and deeply fascinated by his Lovecraft deconstruction “The Ballad of Black Tom”. And now I come to his newest book, “The Changeling”. Changelings, as I’m sure you may know, were a superstition that people back in the day had, in which a fairy or other kind of creature would kidnap a child and leave an imposter, or ‘changeling’, in it’s place. This concept no doubt led to a lot of abuse, cruelty, and murder towards children over the years, specifically those with developmental disabilities. Nowadays we just think of them as folklore, seen in books like “Outside Over There”, or as metaphors like in the movie “The Changeling” with Angelina Jolie. But LaValle has taken the changeling myth and given it a new, dark story that I deeply enjoyed.

One of the many things I liked about “The Changeling” is that it really kept me guessing as I read it. While it’s true that at the end of the day I knew that yes, this HAD to have supernatural elements to it, it also made me think about the very real issue of post-partum depression and the pressure on new parents, mothers in particular, to be great at it right from the start. If this book had been about an untreated mental illness and the tragedies that can happen because of it, LaValle would have told a sensitive and thoughtful story about tragedies that we just don’t like to talk about or acknowledge. Even though it was fantasy, so many elements of it felt incredibly real and plausible, from the horrors of modern technology making us less safe than we can imagine, to the struggles new parents face from family, society, and themselves. He also does a great job incorporating themes of race and gender into this story, with racism and misogyny being underlying and indirect villains towards Apollo and Emma alike. So many real world horrors come into this book and yet all have a dreamy sort of air about them, and it left me feeling under a spell as well as on edge.

There is also a lovely theme in this book that has to do with books and storytelling. Apollo is not only a book dealer, he is greatly attached to a copy of the book “Outside Over There”, one of the few things that his father left for him before he up and vanished. Apollo’s love for this book about a girl who needs to save her baby sister from those that stole her away may seem a bit on the nose for the story, but the other themes of paternal abandonment and parental failure and anxiety are also present. Apollo’s father wasn’t there for him, much like Ida’s father is away. Apollo’s love for his child blinds him when things may not be what they seem, just as Ida’s love for her sister blinded her. Parental failings and anxieties both in “Outside Over There” and “The Changeling” dance between the pages, as Ida has to grow up fast when her mother isn’t there for her emotionally and Apollo has to grow up fast when his mother can’t be there for him physically. Even New York becomes a dreamy fairy world you can’t quite trust, just like the world of Outside Over there, which Ida falls into when she starts her journey going out the window the wrong way. And there are fair reminders in this book that trolls are no longer just mystical creatures that want to eat up children, but are very real dangers in a world where your life is online for the entire world to see. That kind of felt heavy-handed at times, but overall it was just another clever way to update our fairy tale for an NYC setting.

I think that if I had a quibble with it, it would be that it was mostly from a male point of view. I would have liked to have seen some of Emma’s journey as well. I understand that revealing her secrets was another subversion of fairy tales and the roles that women are held to (damsels or witches), but I think that her own path would have been highly enjoyable to read.

A haunting and breathtaking story, “The Changeling” is dark and sad, but also hopeful and vibrant. If you want a modern and dark fairy tale, this book should be one that you put on your ‘to read’ list.

Rating 8: A complex and dark fairy tale, “The Changeling” is a beautiful and striking work of dark fantasy/horror with a modern twist and a relevant commentary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Changeling” is included on the Gooreads lists “Beautifully Disturbing”, and “2017 SFF by Authors of Color”.

Find “The Changeling” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Reviews: “Here and Gone”

32336395Book: “Here and Gone” by Haylen Beck

Publishing Info: Crown Publishing Group, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother’s desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities.

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them… 

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

Review: Though I never saw the movie “Flightplan”, the concept of it caught my interest. A woman and her daughter get on a plane, her daughter disappears, and then when she reports it the flight crew tell her that she never had a daughter with her. I would assume that part of the movie is spent making the viewer question whether Jodie Foster is insane or not (if I am wrong, tell me!). It’s a trope that has been used before, sometimes very effectively and other times…. not. But while I was thinking that “Here and Gone” was going to be this trope all over again, effectiveness to be determined, it’s established pretty early on that this is not one of those stories. And frankly, I was relieved. Instead of wondering whether Audra was going to end up being yet another unstable and messed up protagonist in a “Girl on the Train”-esque mystery, we get corruption in a small town and the dark web. And to that I say ‘hell YES’.

What I really liked about “Here and Gone” is that since right away we know that Audra’s children, Sean and Louise, do exist, we don’t have to worry about trying to solve a mystery on top of another mystery. In fact, I was really just along for the ride of trying to see how Audra was going to escape custody of a corrupt sheriff, and how she was going to save her children from being sold into sex trafficking (yes, it went there). I wasn’t worried about some crazy reveal about Audra’s mental state, and while there were still a couple questions that had to be definitively answered I pretty much was able to sit back, relax, and let it all play out. Because of this, I found myself incredibly engrossed in this book, picking it up one night and then finishing it up the very next night in a marathon reading session. Beck knows how to sustain the tension in this book, even when jumping from character to character, time period to time period.

While none of his characters are super intricate and complex, they all have just enough defining characteristics that I always believed the choices that they made. Audra as a protagonist was especially fun to follow, as she is a scrappy dame who has completely pulled herself from victimization to empowerment, and not in a way that seemed cheesy or laid on too thick. We get the past with her husband and we see how it all happened, but we also saw that she believably has made a new life for herself, and left the despair of abuse and addiction behind her. Not once are we manipulated into thinking that oh, she may slip up in her sobriety, or oh, she may have to be victimized again to get her children back. In her steadfastness she was fun to follow. The secondary protagonist is Danny, a man whose daughter was taken under similar circumstances. When he sees the news reports of a woman who may have murdered her children but insists they were with her when the cops pulled her over, he thinks of his wife, and how their daughter disappeared in similar fashion. His wife committed suicide shortly thereafter. His backstory was a nice juxtaposition to Audra’s showing just how grave this situation really is. Beck also made a point to show cause and effect of the slow death of small town America, built up with promises of an American Dream only to find themselves in poverty when industry has left them. The town filled with a corrupt police force is dying because of a now defunct mining community, and as poverty sets in, greed and entitlement (as well as tragedy) drives our antagonists to do the unthinkable. It was far more interesting than the scenario I thought we were going into, and I think that because it was so straight forward, I was more hooked than I would have been had I been waiting for a twist. I should also note that Haylen Beck is a pen name for Irish writer Stuart Neville, and while he may be based in Northern Ireland I think he did a bang up job of writing about Small Town Americana.

Sure, it’s not a perfect book. There are some things that seem to fit together a little to perfectly, and sometimes I had to suspend some of my disbelief in how some scenarios shook out, or how lucky some things ended up being. But as far as fun thrillers go, this one was very engaging and would be a great pick for a plane or a beach read as summer starts to wind down.

Rating 8: A fast paced and suspenseful thriller that was hard to put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Here and Gone” is new and isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Child Abduction”. 

Find “Here and Gone” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Saint Death”

31145190Book: “Saint Death” by Marcus Sedgwick

Publishing Info: Roaring Book Press, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In a shack on the outskirts of the border city of Juarez, a teenage boy is visited by a long-lost friend.

Arturo scrapes together a living working odd jobs and staying out of sight. His friend Faustino has joined one of the city’s violent drug gangs. Now Faustino is in trouble: he’s stolen money from the narcos to smuggle his girlfriend and her baby into the U.S., and he wants Arturo’s help getting it back before they kill him for what he’s done.

Review: One of the greatest discoveries that our book club helped me make was Marcus Sedgwick. When we read “Midwinterblood” I was completely enthralled by it, it’s dark fantasy/horrorscape sucking me in and twisting me all around. When we went to ALA in 2014, one of my greatest moments was meeting Mr. Sedgwick at a book signing (and a coffee klatch!), and getting to talk a little bit about the movie “The Wicker Man” with him, as “Midwinterblood” definitely took influence from it (and I’m talking about the original “Wicker Man”, not the one with Nicholas Cage in a bear suit). So now I do my best to read any Marcus Sedgwick books that cross my path. While none have quite lived up to “Midwinterblood”, Sedgwick has become one of my favorite YA authors. And that brings me to his newest YA novel, “Saint Death”. And amazingly, I think it’s his darkest one yet.

I will admit that I was a little hesitant to pick this one up when I first heard about it. After all, the subject of life for Mexicans in the border towns, especially Juarez, is a difficult and painful one. American corporate interests and consumption of illegal drugs has led to massive poverty, and lots of gang warfare between various Cartels. So yeah, my teeth got set a little bit on edge when I found out that a British man was going to tell a story set with this backdrop. I’m still not totally certain if I think it’s his story to tell. BUT, that said, I think that Sedgwick did take it on a portray it in a sensitive and responsible way. It’s pretty clear that he did some massive research on his own, and asked for input from those who may be more familiar with the realities of this situation. And besides, “Saint Death” pulls no punches in postulating where some of the blame can be laid for the violence, corruption, and poverty that is seen in Juarez. American corporations exploit NAFTA to profit off of factories across the border that make them richer but barely pay anything to the workers, and the American consumption of illegal drugs fuels the Cartels. Throw in the topics of undocumented immigration and closed borders, as well as some climate change to boot, and you have yourself a very political book that makes it’s readers question how culpable they are through Capitalist ideals and the supposed free market.

But even without the frank and brutal politics, the characters in “Saint Death” really kept me interested and invested. Arturo and Faustino both make terrible decisions in this book, decisions that may have baffled and frustrated me. But at the same time, because of how well written they both were, I not only believed that they would make them, but I also understood exactly why they were making them. Though it’s Faustino whose choice to steal money to save his girlfriend and baby sets our story in motion, it’s ultimately Arturo whose story we follow. His journey to try to get one thousand dollars for his friend is a short one, and only takes place over a couple of days, but so much happens and he grows and changes so much you really see how his circumstances have completely changed him and the course of his entire life. Even if we spend a comparatively short time with Arturo, Sedgwick does a great job of getting you attached to him. I felt completely tensed up as he got deeper and deeper into Faustino’s mess, especially because of the impending sense of doom that lingers throughout the pages. In part this is because of the presence of Santa Muerte, a folk saint that the people in Arturo’s community have come to worship, including Faustino. While Arturo goes in not believing in Santa Muerte, she is in the pages, given her own perspective points and waxing about the human race as a whole. I loved this device, as it was a great way to tie in the global politics to Arturo’s story.

Finally, while I don’t want to spoil anything about this book and the places it goes, I need to address one thing in vaguest terms possible. Remember all those times I’ve said that I hate last minute twists that feel like a cheap way to try and shock the readers one last time? Well, this book did that. But it did it SO WELL that it achieved what those kind of twists are supposed to achieve! When I got to that quick and fleeting passage that changed SO MUCH, I literally gasped out loud and yelled

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(source)

Now THAT is how you pull off the end page twist. I salute you, Mr. Sedgwick!

“Saint Death” is a difficult book to read, but I think that it’s a pretty important one. I’m impressed that Sedgwick trusts his YA readers to be able to take on these topics and think critically about them, and hope that more authors follow his lead. Just be sure to steel yourself for something very dark, as important as it may be.

Rating 8: A tense and politically relevant thriller that raises a lot of questions about politics, capitalism, and American social values, and how they affect people living in Mexican border towns.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Saint Death” is pretty new still and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. It is, however, on “2017 Titles By/For/About Latinx”, and I think it would fit in on “Books for Fans of BREAKING BAD”.

Find “Saint Death” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

3682Book: “A Great and Terrible Beauty” by Libba Bray

Publication Info: Simon and Schuster, December 2013

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

Book Description: A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.

Review: You may be wondering…a book about snarky popular girls? Why is Serena reviewing this and not Kate, the keeper of snarky girls’ clubs? Well, after I started this book, I found out that Kate did in fact read this book before we started this blog, and I’m now just playing catch up. But, in many ways, this book also sounded like something that would be up my alley. I love historical books, and especially those that fall into the very specific “fantasy of manners” category that often mixes Regency/Victorian fiction with magical worlds and systems. So, while the snarky girls did get on my nerves at points, these other elements that are more typical of my usual reading wares were definitely working in its favor.

The story starts out with us meeting Gemma, a spoiled and rather bratty teenage girl living in India with her parents and dreaming of London. After tragedy strikes and her mother dies in the midst of some strange dark magic, Gemma finds her “dreams” coming true, but not in the ways she would expect. Yes, she’s now in England. But being the new girl isn’t all that she thought it would be, and not only is she set apart by this status, but she’s hiding a dark secret of her burgeoning magical abilities. All too quickly, things begin to spiral out of control and now Gemma needs to not only manage learning her own powers, but finding a way to keep her new friends safe in the process.

While I found myself wanting to smack each of these girls up side the head at one point or another, I loved the clear-eyed look at the harsh realities that were forced upon Victorian young ladies. Each girl has her own struggles to overcome. The beauty who is being essentially sold to the highest bidder in a marriage of convenience. The powerful, popular girl whose charm and magnetic personality allows her to reign over the school but whose control over her self and her decisions doesn’t translate to a life where she has been abandoned by her mother and ignored by her father. The orphan, attending school on a scholarship and whose dreams of beauty and singing are being squashed beneath the realities of an almost unavoidable future as a governess. And Gemma, herself, who is being told again and again by the men around her to keep her head down, be a good girl, and definitely don’t learn anything more about her own magical abilities.

Each of these girls was distinct, and each responded differently to the sudden power and freedom they discover in Gemma’s abilities and the mystical Order, a group of magical women that existed for centuries before coming to a mysterious and tragic end a few decades ago. I loved the slow reveal of the Order and the truth behind the girls who had been at the center of its downfall. There were plenty of surprises, and some that, while I was able to guess the result, were just as delicious in the telling.

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I was pretty much picturing scenes from “Practical Magic” throughout this entire book. (source)

My few qualms with the story are purely personal preference. There’s a reason why Kate is the queen of the snarky girls groups and I’m not. At various points in the story, but especially towards the last third, I would get increasingly frustrated with the nonsense of these girls. While the tenuous balance of their friendships read as true of teenage girls, even if I found it annoying at times, it was the complete lack of thought that went into some of their actions towards the end that really got to me. The author did a good job of building up the desperation, frustration, and fear of the future that drove these actions, but I still had a hard time with the complete idiocy that made up some of these decisions, given the information they had about past events. However, this last third was saved by some good action sequences, and a realistic bout of consequences for everything that occurred.

My last point will be that there was the seemingly required romance sub plot in this story. And when I say sub plot, I mean sub sub plot. It was barely there to the point that whenever it was referenced, it almost felt like it was coming out of the blue. The boy in question was rarely involved in the action of the story, would be absent for large chunks of time, and really had no relationship building with Gemma, leaving any feelings she had for him based purely on physical appearance. Luckily, the relationship doesn’t develop much, which felt on par with the above mentioned limitations, but I was left wondering whether it needed to be included at all. I’m guessing that more will come of this in the next few books, which may, in retrospect, make this element read better a second go-around.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. I loved the setting of a Victorian boarding school, with the strict boundaries set before these girls as the force upon which the freedoms and power of the magical elements worked against. While I can only hope that in future books the girls wisen up a bit, and maybe snap at each other a bit less, I’m definitely interested enough to continue with the series.

Rating 8: While my tolerance for bratty girls may be rather low, I still loved the magic and the Victorian setting.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Great and Terrible Beauty” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Victorian Historical Fiction Set In Britain” and “Fantasy of Manners.”

Find “A Great and Terrible Beauty” at your library using WorldCat!