Kate’s Review: “Shadoweyes (Vol.1)”

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Book: “Shadoweyes” by Sophie Campbell

Publishing Info: SLG Publishing, August 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In the futuristic, dystopian city of Dranac, moody teenager Scout Montana is an aspiring vigilante, but her first attempt to beat up a mugger is halted when she’s hit in the head with a brick and knocked unconscious. When she awakens, she discovers that she’s able to transform into a strange, blue, clawed, superhuman creature! In this new body she becomes the vigilante Shadoweyes… but, she’s unable to return to her human form, and is lured into a homeless superheroic life on the streets by her inhuman appearance – forced outside of society yet still bound to it. Scout’s new life as Shadoweyes is just getting started!

Review: When we started this blog, I knew that one of the things I really wanted to do was to try and find books that had diversity in them. I think that it’s important as librarians that we find books for all people from all backgrounds, and to promote them and show them off. I asked my friend Tami for some recommendations, and one of the first ideas she came up with was “Shadoweyes”. I had never heard of this series, and am glad that it was brought to my attention. So thanks, Tami! Scout/Shadoweyes is a character that stands apart from a number of other superheroes, if only because her personality is both very chill and subdued, while also having a very strong sense of what’s morally right, even if sometimes what’s right can be murky. I liked that she wasn’t necessarily a quirky teen girl, nor was she really an outcast. She has her best friend Kyisha, she has a supportive and loving mother, but she also has a frustration with the society she lives in that pushes her to try and make the world at least a little safer. She doesn’t have lofty goals; lofty goals are thrust upon her when she starts shape shifting into Shadoweyes, a strange reptilian humanoid creature.

I really like Scout/Shadoweyes, as she felt very real as a teenage girl in a very violent and dangerous world. I also liked her circle of friends/acquaintances, namely Kyisha and Sparkle. Kyisha is a very fun and cynical character, while Sparkle is over the top in her optimism and naïveté (and her love for a card game that is very reminiscent of “My Little Ponies”), so having them both provide companionship to Shadoweyes and her story was a nice balance. As for world building, Dranac is a place that we don’t know much about, setting wise. The concept of a dystopic future world is one that we’ve seen before, but what I liked about “Shadoweyes” and the setting of Dranac is that the dystopic world is not really the focus of the story, it’s just the setting. True, Dranac isn’t a good place to live, hence the reason Scout/Shadoweyes is so interested in being a vigilante, but as of right now Dranac’s setting is environmental only. Given that so much dystopic fiction for teens usually ends up with an overthrowing of the system, I’d be curious if “Shadoweyes” is going to go that route. It may not have to, and set itself apart that way.

I also really like how diverse this world is, and how that diversity is not treated as a strange anomaly. Not only is Scout/Shadoweyes an African American teenage girl, her friend Kyisha is a POC and trans, and Sparkle is representing another demographic that I don’t really want to give away because of a spoiler that really needs to be saved for reading it, just in relation to emotional impact. Campbell also draws all of these characters with differing looks, body types, and personalities, so they all feel very representative of different kinds of people who don’t usually get a lot of focus in a graphic novel setting. Campbell herself is a writer that I’m happy has a voice in the comics world, as she is a trans woman. There was one instance where the moral of tolerance and understanding felt a little bit on the nose, with characters starting to lecture a bit, but it was very quickly pulled in and never trotted into unbelievable territory. On the whole, all of the diversity and representation was very organic and believable, which was so refreshing and good to see. As someone who knows she still has a lot to learn when it comes to a lot of these things, I don’t know if I can say that it was a be all end all place for diverse representation, but I do think that at the very least it’s a good start.

And then there’s the villain, the unnamed-as-of-yet zombie/mummy/whatever girl. She is just super unsettling, and I am very curious as to what her deal is because she gave me a serious case of the willies. I don’t know why she was holding onto Sparkle, I don’t know why she was buried, and I don’t know where she is going in terms of plot. But I am really, really intrigued to find out, because her presence is easily one of my favorite things about this comic. While the city itself has a lot of injustice that Scout/Shadoweyes is trying to sort out, I really hope we go back to this girl and the mysteries that surround her.

After doing a bit of digging, it looks like the original run of “Shadoweyes” only went for two graphic novels. But as of now, it looks as though it’s being rereleased as a web comic that you can find online, starting HERE. Online it’s in full color, and I found a kickstarter that Campbell set up that, I think, is re-releasing “Shadoweyes” in full color. So maybe we’re going to get some new adventures of “Shadoweyes” beyond what has been in black and white print form already. I, personally, am very excited about that, and hope that it comes to fruition.

Rating 8: A fun comic that has it all: action, solid friendship, representation, humor, and heart.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shadoweyes” is included in these Goodreads Lists: “Booklist for Trans Teens” and “Supernatural (Not Superhero) Comics”

Find “Shadoweyes” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Morning Star”

Morning StarBook: “Morning Star” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, February 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.

Unavoidable spoilers for “Red Rising” and “Golden Son.”

Review: This is it! The final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. For me, from past experience with YA trilogies, the last book is what makes or breaks the series. And sadly, more often than not, they fall in the category of “breaks.” I’m looking at you “Allegiant” and “Mockingjay.” But not so with “Morning Star.” It’s good, guys, it’s really good!

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Yes! Nailed it!

“Morning Star” picks up pretty much where “Golden Son” left off. Darrow has been betrayed and captured by his enemies. Cue pain and suffering. It goes without saying that eventually he is rescued, otherwise there would be no book here, so I don’t think I’m spoiling much by acknowledging that yes, he does eventually escape. But only after his confidence has been shaken. This book is the culmination of Darrow’s journey towards leadership. One of my complaints from “Golden Son” was Darrow’s tendency towards over-confidence and arrogance. In this book he has to re-make himself and discover what it is that he really has to contribute to the uprising. It’s no longer as simple as “Darrow: magical leader fighting guy.” His journey through this book is so incredibly satisfying.

All the right character beats are hit exactly. And moreover, not only do we get more time and character expansion for favorite characters from past books (Sevro, Victra, Mustang) but yes, even more awesome characters are added, like the Queen of the Obsidians. I can’t write this review without dedicating at least a few sentences to my girl, Mustang. This series has come so far from its roots where I was skeptical as to the treatment of the few female characters. In this, Mustang comes into her own as equally important to the success of the revolution as Darrow. They’re the definition of a power couple.

Believe it or not, the world building expands even further in this final book. It’s incredibly impressive how creative, well-thought out, and organized this massive world is. We get to spend time in a variety of new settings and, specifically,  the politics of the Obsidians and Moon Lords are more fully explored.

The most impressive part of this story, for me, is the fact that Brown doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of a revolution of this nature. Darrow is forced to make heartbreaking compromises and, in the end, his “rising” looks much different than the one he imagined as the idealistic sleeper spy from book one.

My few criticisms of the book: I mentioned in my review for “Golden Son” the odd balance Brown strikes between writing shocking revelations and dealing with the boundaries of a first person narrative. There was some improvement in this area, but ultimately, I still found some of these reveals a bit awkward in the context of how the reader is viewing the story. I’m starting to think that Brown could also make it as a screenwriter given this tendency. There are also several grand speeches (ala “Independence Day” style) throughout the book which are easy to picture going over well in a summer blockbuster. Perhaps a few too many, honestly. However, it is ultimately saved by a couple of self-aware jabs at Darrow’s tendency to speechify which play well for humor’s sake.

Ultimately, I think that Brown nailed the landing on this one. While the end was slightly predictable, Brown’s complex world, engaging characters, and talent for writing fast-paced, exciting action scenes make this book (and series) a must for sci-fi lovers.

Rating 8: Highly enjoyable. Am waiting for the movie announcement to come any day! How could it not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Morning Star” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “Best Grimdark.”

Find “Morning Star” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott (Ill.), and Doug Hazelwood (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The Secret Six are back in an all-new ongoing series that promises to deliver some of the darkest, most twisted action-adventure the DC Universe has seen since…well, the last time the Secret Six got together!

Join Catman, Scandal, Deadshot, Ragdoll, and their two newest members as they hit the road on the run from some of the world’s most dangerous killers! A contract has been put out on the lives of the Six, but the sly team has some tricks – and a whole lot of bullets – up their own sleeves! Prepare for an adventure that will take them through a gauntlet across the seediest parts of the DC Universe, and will ultimately pit them against a foe more monstrous and murderous than any they’ve ever had to face!

Review: This summer the movie “Suicide Squad” is coming out, and while a lot of people are already making fun of it (as many people are wont to do when it comes to DC movies), I’m intrigued by it and will probably go see it. I like the idea of villains being the anti-heroes and stars of the story, so “Suicide Squad” appeals to me. But along with Suicide Squad, there is another team of villains turned (sorta) good in the DC Universe, and that is the Secret Six. The Secret Six first appeared during the Silver Age of DC Comics, but they tapered off and didn’t reappear until Gail Simone (comic writer extraordinaire) brought them back from the dead with a new team and a new, edgier image. Though they started with a couple miniseries (which I AM getting from the library and will address in a later post), I started with their first stand alone volume, “Secret Six: Unhinged”*. In which our intrepid and jaded group of anti-heroes find themselves breaking former baddie Tarantula (Catalina Flores edition!) out of prison, and the target of a very scary crime boss named Junior. Because Junior is interested in something that Tarantula has in her possession….

I’ll admit that I was a little confused at first, as I inadvertently jumped in kind of in the middle of the story. But Simone does a really good job of getting newbies up to speed, and the new arc starts quick and takes over right away. All of the characters are drawn in many shades of grey, but they are all very likable even when they are doing pretty questionable things. What I liked the most about The Secret Six was that while they were all pretty snarky and had their own quirks, there was always a dangerous, and sad, vibe about each and every one of them. Scandal Savage is their sort of unofficial leader, but she is mourning the loss of her girlfriend, and that makes her fragile and unpredictable. Catman is going through his own traumatic memories, but that doesn’t stop him from snarking at Batman while they come to fisticuffs on the rooftops of Gotham (I was cackling hysterically when Catman was convinced there was a taco place around due to the scents in the air and would just. not. let. it. go.). Ragdoll is a weirdo who can contort and shift his limbs, but he may have a sadder backstory than he’s letting on. Deadshot is a tough guy with a mean streak, but you can tell he does care about his teammates. Jeannette is gorgeous and sexy, but has a mysterious power that goes back centuries. And then there’s Bane. A very conflicted, paternal Bane who has sworn off Venom because he doesn’t want to be an addict anymore. Which is weird. But along with thinking it was weird, I really, really loved it and was totally on board with it. Bane without Venom? Sure! Let’s do this!

All of these personalities combine to make a very likable team, and in turn a very likable series. It isn’t all snarky and espionage-ridden sunshine and rainbows, however, as Simone does bring in a lot of darker themes. The villain (well, the actual antagonistic villain, I should say), Junior, is seriously one of the most disturbing creations I have seen come out of DC comics. Heck, maybe even in all of comic-dom, at least for me, and that’s coming from someone who dabbles in lots of other twisted comics as well (Hellooooo “The Walking Dead”). Junior was a very depraved and upsetting villain, but even Junior has a lot of character and a lot of history that gives the reader no other choice but to feel some empathy for how this really scary villain got this far gone. That said, it’s hard to forget that the first thing we see of Junior is an unfortunate victim being pulled into a small wooden box and destroyed in ways that is only left to the reader’s imagination. And let’s just say my mind went to really awful places.

I also want to mention that there are laugh out loud hilarious moments in this first book. The aforementioned Batman vs Catman fight, some of Ragdoll’s eccentricities that put the rest of his teammates off, how exasperated Scandal gets with Bane’s misguided, if not sweet, attempts to be a father figure to her, and the snappy dialogue that Simone is known for. As someone who likes her superheroes with a little bit of edge, this team of ne’er do wells tickled me absolutely pink.

While I’m wondering how long this can sustain itself, and while I already found myself a little weary of the potential for constant double crossing, as of right now I am really digging Secret Six. This is a great example of why I am a DC girl at heart. It’s all about the villains, baby.

*NOTE: Simone’s original Secret Six run has been re-released as of late. I’m reading the original trades, which may be harder to find. If you want to read this series in the new trades, the titles are as follows: “Villains United”, “Money for Murder”, “Cat’s Cradle”, and a yet unnamed final trade, according to Goodreads.

Rating 8: Interesting characters and the right balance of action, pathos, and humor.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World” and “Comics Starring Villains”

Find “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: The Kind Worth Killing

21936809Book: “The Kind Worth Killing” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A devious tale of psychological suspense involving sex, deception, and an accidental encounter that leads to murder. This is a modern re-imagining of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train from the author of the acclaimed The Girl with a Clock for a Heart.

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse–one they both cannot survive–with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

Review: What I am about to admit is probably considered sacrilege, but I am really not a fan of “Gone Girl”. As a fan of thrillers and someone who would consider herself a feminist, I had been told that I would really like it. Heck the popularity of it made me think that it was going to be up my alley. And then… it wasn’t. So as I’ve wandered through the jungle of thriller fiction, I’ve approached the books I’ve read with “Gone Girl” in my mind, in the sense of ‘is this the kind of book is what I wanted “Gone Girl” to be?’ Whenever I find a book that measures up to my mind’s perception of what “Gone Girl” was, I rejoice. I’m happy to report that “The Kind Worth Killing” is one of those books. I had initially picked it up as a fun vacation read, thinking that it was going to be fairly predictable as well as entertaining. So imagine my surprise when it suddenly took a sharp turn from the narrative I’d assumed, and sucked me in so completely that I finished it in about one day.

The plot is simple and sinister; a man is approached by a beautiful stranger while waiting for his flight. He is Ted, a computer mogul who saw his wife Miranda sleeping with the contractor of the house he’s building for her. She is Lily, charming and filled with mystery. And when he confides his marital woes, she says that not only should he kill her, but that she will help him get away with it. But any expectations that I went in with were tossed out the damn window as I read this book. Without giving anything away, as you NEED to be surprised by it, I can assure you that this doesn’t go the way that you think it’s supposed to. While Ted is a fairly opaque character in his own right, Lily is the true shining star of this twisted and devious thriller. The chapters alternate perspectives between multiple characters, and I found myself most looking forward to those that were from hers. While Lily has a lot of despicable baggage and qualities, Swanson wrote her in such a way that I not only understood where she was coming from and what motivated her, I found myself rooting for her a lot of the time. As creepy as that probably is. Swanson made her very likable, or at least fascinating, even if you knew that she was a devious and dangerous person underneath everything.

That isn’t to say that this book didn’t have weaknesses as well as strong points. I was dissatisfied with the character of the detective, whose purpose was certainly clear, but at the same time seemed superfluous to the story. His plot points were the weakest and his portrayal was by far the most two dimensional of all of the characters, along with perpetrating some distasteful sexual objectification of Lily (when at that point as far as he knew she had nothing to do with the crime) as if to further turn ‘what’s good vs what’s bad’ on its head. It felt heavy handed to me at best, and lazy writing at worst. That along with some hastily plotted out aspects of the ending made part of this book feel like it fumbled a bit by the conclusion, but since the ride getting there and getting to know Lily was a sinister delight, I am more than willing to give these minor details a pass.

“The Kind Worth Killing” is a thriller that I hope picks up some notice and interest from the thriller loving community. It’s a very fun read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. And also make you root for some shady, shady characters.

Rating 8: A thriller filled with twists, turns, and some very fun, and despicable, characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Kind Worth Killing” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ You Might Also Like…”

Find “The Kind Worth Killing” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Red Rising”

Red RisingIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the first book in the trilogy.

Book: “Red Rising”

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: Splurge! I bought it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review: This book was marketed as a cross between “The Hunger Games” and “Ender’s Game.” I liked “The Hunger Games” and loved “Ender’s Game,” so I was pretty sold. (Of course, this book also came out during a time when all YA books published that had even a whiff of dystopian influences were marketed as “THE NEXT HUNGER GAMES OMG.” So I was understandably skeptical of this claim.) However, for once, this marketing ploy wasn’t far off and actually followed through with its promise!

This book is fast paced. You meet Darrow, an unambitious family man (yes, he’s also a teenager, but hey, dystopia world!) who is content to live his life as a Helldiver, a risky role where he operates a clawDrill that bores into Mars’ core in an effort to terraform the planet for human life on the surface. Two seconds later, tragedy has struck, he’s been recruited to a rebel organization, and is a sleeper spy caught up in political intrigue within a  tyrannical society that spans the solar system. A society that uses an elaborate death school to identify the leaders in its elite youth. Hence: “Hunger Games in Space!”

The world building is impressive. The combination of a complex hierarchical system based on colors (Blues work in the medical field, Green are tech, etc. with Gold ruling over the lot), plus a sci-fi backdrop on Mars, with many creative uses of technology, leaves the reader constantly wondering what will come next and how these pieces will all fit together. Brown is clearly having a blast with this world, and his appreciation of staple works in the sci fi/fantasy genre  is expressed with a fun smattering of Easter eggs for fans to fish out.

Darrow is also a fantastic protagonist. At one point as I was reading, I started to become concerned that he was going to turn into the typical, hero-journey character that neatly ticks the boxes in his predictable path to becoming the savior of the people. But, luckily, his flaws are highlighted and there are enough wrenches thrown into the plot to defy expectation and keep things interesting.

And his companion, Mustang, is amazing. I want a companion series all about her. My one concern, however, is that in this book she seems to operate as the token “strong woman” character with several other female characters sliding into obscurity. And worse, at one point there comes a bit that strikes too closely to using violence against women purely for shock value. My biggest hope for this series is that it improves in this area.

All in all, I highly enjoyed “Red Rising.” The book is obviously setting up a trilogy but is also enjoyable on its own. Stay tuned for my review of “Golden Son” coming soon.

Rating 8: Very good, fun sci fi read

Reader’s Advisory:

“Red Rising” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “YA Novels of 2014.”

Find “Red Rising” at your library using WorldCat!