Kate’s Review: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places”

28815491Book: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey

Publishing Info: Viking, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I bought it.

Book Description: An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country’s most infamously haunted places–and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget. With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living–how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made–and why those changes are made–Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we’re most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Review: As a person who loves history and learning about our culture through a historical lens, finding a good book on America’s past is always an exciting thing for me. I’m also a huge fan of haunted places and scary stories, as I am a hardcore Fox Mulder in that I want to believe (even if the Scully side of me butts in and usually pulls me from the total brink of belief). So when I found out that there was a book that combined both of these topics, I was so excited I couldn’t wait for the library to get it, and bought it myself. “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey is truly a perfect read for the month of October, and for Horrorpalooza. Because these are ‘true’ ghost stories! Sort of. It’s more trying to find out why certain places get haunted reputations, outside of a place actually being haunted by a restless spirit. Going into this book I thought that it was going to be a bit more about the latter with American history serving as a back drop, but what I got was a deeper exploration of our country’s past and all of the baggage that comes with it.

Dickey travelled from haunted place to haunted place in America, not only telling the reader about the story behind the place, but also telling an in depth exploration of the non haunted history of that place and the implications that surround it. While there were numerous stories in this book that I had at least heard of in passing (or in the cases of the Winchester Mystery House and the city of Savannah, Georgia, actually been to), the actual background of those places were almost always unfamiliar to me, either because I just never learned about it at all, or because I’d believed the ‘haunted’ history that time has elevated. This had two reactions from me as I read the book. The first reaction was from the history buff in me, which was

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(source)

But the second reaction was from the Fox Mulder in me, which was

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(source)

At one point in this book, Dickey speaks on the fact that the belief in the supernatural vs the disbelief in it are always going to be at odds with one another, because you aren’t going to convince a skeptic that ghosts exist, just as you aren’t going to convince a believer that they don’t. As I read this book, even though I had this in mind, I found myself falling into that exact trap. When Dickey would explain the actual history behind a haunted place, such as the Winchester Mystery House, I would write off the things that didn’t fit with my thoughts as sometimes dismiss them completely. No, I don’t necessarily believe that Sarah Winchester was told by a medium that she had to move west and keep building a house to trick the spirits from cursing her. BUT, I ALSO don’t believe that she built this strange house for years and years and years at a huge financial expense just because she was experimenting with architecture. Does a tourist site like the Winchester Mystery House have a vested interest in hyping it’s haunted reputation at the expense of the actual history of Sarah Winchester? Of course it does. But I wholly believe that there was something else going on beyond an enthusiastic woman enthralled by her design creativity. It was times like these that I felt that this book was a little less than thrilling for me. Just because there wasn’t a record of a mental problem going on doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.

But Winchester Mystery House aside (and it’s good that Dickey didn’t go all in on Savannah outside of saying it’s a tourist city hoping to protect and promote it’s ‘brand’), I really enjoyed reading “Ghostland”, because Dickey did bring up a lot of good points about American history and culture, especially when it comes to how these places and hauntings reflect our value systems. I especially liked that he brought up the fact that so often, the ‘ghosts’ that haunt these places are very Western centric and white, except when it comes to mass tragedies that our country perpetuated and both feels guilty over while also ignoring them. Specifically, slavery and the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples. While there have been stories of Thomas Jefferson haunting Monticello, a ghost that the site can embrace, you very rarely hear about ghosts of slaves and those that Jefferson wronged wandering it’s halls. On the flip side of the coin, the idea of the “Ancient Indian Burial Ground” is a trope that has been used repeatedly in horror stories, but it serves as little more than a way to Other multiple distinct groups while assuaging our guilt that we don’t really like to think about. In our stories it’s a revenge that is understandable, and yet we are still predisposed to sympathize for those (usually non-Native) people being haunted rather than the reason the haunting is happening in the first place. I had never really thought about these things in depth before reading this book, and boy did it really make me think.

Dickey also did a fair amount of research going into this book, with a fair amount of source notes that tie it all together. He did a good job of presenting a lot of information without it ever dragging or seeming dry, which is a true talent when dealing with the complexities of American history. He has a serious penchant for storytelling and kept things interesting while keeping them solidly anchored in historical context. And I do appreciate that Dickey postulates that even if they are overblown, hyped, and in some cases patently untrue, these ‘true’ hauntings do serve a larger purpose beyond just entertaining the masses. Sometimes they help us cope, or serve as warnings, or just help us understand what we’re seeing before us.

While “Ghostland” may not have changed my mind about the possibility of ghosts (though that wasn’t the intention at the heart of it), I did really find it a fascinating read and completely perfect for this time of year. I can’t recommend this book to history buffs enough, especially those like me who love a good ghost story. So if you want to learn some potentially new ghost stories and get some context as to what functions they serve in modern society, pick it up!

Rating 8: Though it sometimes downplayed a bit too much, “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” is a fascinating read with a lot of insight to American history and society and the ghosts that haunt us.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Best Nonfiction Ghost Books”, and “Understanding History”.

Find “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Thousand Names”

15810910Book: “The Thousand Names” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Roc, July 2013

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

Book Description: Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

Review: I honestly don’t remember how this book came to be on my to-read pile, and I also had very little to zero memory of what the basic premises was when I picked it up. A fantasy novel…ok…got it. So, without much preparation or expectation, it was an adventure discovering this book and a pleasant surprise, especially considering it was not the type of fantasy I typically read.

As readers of this blog may have picked upon, my fantasy reading tends to veer towards the “fairytale-like” and medieval fantasy. This is decidedly not that. It can only be described as military fantasy, and, surprisingly, I kind of dug it. Our two chapter perspective characters, Marcus and Winter, both serve in a regiment of the army that is stationed in a far-away outpost, only now seeing action after an uprising of the native people have pushed their army to the sea. They meet up with the newly-arrived Colonel Vhalnich, and while at first skeptical of this eccentric new leader, both, in their own way, come to discover that he may be a military genius…and also caught up in some other nefarious plots! My use of the ellipses is intentional.  The military genius portion is by far the more emphasized part of the story than the mystical plots.

Hats off to Wexler for making such a military-focused story appealing to even casual fans like myself. While it took a bit longer for me to become invested in the story and to fully realize (and accept) that this is what this book was going to be, ultimately, by halfway through the story, I was thoroughly enjoying even the most detailed of military strategy. Most likely this was due to the fact that by this point I was thoroughly invested in our main characters (Marcus/Winter), and almost equally invested in their subordinates (Bobby, Graff, etc) and was frantically urging them to “form square!” and “pull back!” and dreading each page turn where surely one of them wouldn’t make it through.

I also really enjoyed Colonel Vhalnich. We never get a chapter from his perspective, but in many ways he is the Sherlock to Marcus’s Watson. And I always love a “Sherlock-esque” brilliant character! He even throws out “Just wait and see, my dear lad, all will be clear in time!” lines! This may be a very specific joy of mine and not mean much to others, but I loved it.

Marcus was a decent protagonist, fairly straightforward and reminiscent of a “knight in shining armor” character. While I admired his devotion to his friends, there were plenty of times where I just wanted to smack him upside the head at the idiocy of some of his gallantry. There were a few twists that I saw coming a mile away that I couldn’t quite forgive him for missing (though I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be surprised as readers as well…ah all, this is what comes from reading so much of the same genre!).

Winter, however, was a completely unique and thoroughly enjoyable character to find in this type of novel. A run-away young women who has disguised herself as a man and been hiding out in the army for years as a form of survival and, almost, self-penitence for failing her lover Jane in a critical moment years before. I’ve come across the warrior-women-disguised-as-a-man character plenty of times before, but what is notable about Winter is not only sexuality (we avoid many of the romance tropes with other male characters in the military this way) but also her general reluctance to be there. It’s more a survival tactic than some deep-seeded desire to be a combatant. Her arc and growth was the most compelling part of this story.

The first half of the book is, as I said, very firmly rooted in its military tactics, and while this emphasis continues to a point throughout the whole story, I was happy when we got into a bit more of the magic and  mystery towards the second third. The history and players in this set-up were interesting and new. However, by the time the book wrapped itself up, I was still left with a lot of questions. I’m unsure whether this is a good or a bad thing. It is clearly set up as the first in a series, so not all secrets should be told. But, especially with regards to the title object itself “The Thousand Names,” I found myself still largely confused about what exactly it was and how it was important.

Overall, for a story that was pretty far out from my usual preferences, I found myself very much enjoying this book. Winter was a refreshingly new lead character; it was fun to be annoyed with Marcus’s “idiotic nobility” moments; and, as I’ve said many a time, I like genius characters like the Colonel. So, while I won’t be in a mad rush for the second book, I will definitely include it on my “get to it eventually” list. But if you like military fiction more than I do, definitely check this book out!

Rating 8: A surprisingly engaging read, though perhaps not sticking the landing and reveals as well as I might have liked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Thousand Names” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Military Fantasy” and “LGBT Sci-fi and Fantasy.”

Find “The Thousand Names” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “We Eat Our Own”

27276249Book: “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An ambitious debut novel by an original young writer, We Eat Our Own blurs the lines between life and art with the story of a film director’s unthinkable experiment in the Amazon.

When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.

But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it.

Inspired by a true story from the annals of 1970s Italian horror film, and told in dazzlingly precise prose, We Eat Our Own is a resounding literary debut, a thrilling journey behind the scenes of a shocking film and a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions.

Review: Has anyone out there heard of the movie “Cannibal Holocaust”? Let me give you a quick rundown of this movie and it’s notoriety. And I mean NOTORIETY. So “Cannibal Holocaust” is one of the first ‘found footage’ horror movies. It is about a group of people who go into the Amazonian rainforest to make a documentary about indigenous cannibal tribes, but then disappear. Their footage is found by a professor and the canisters contain many, many horrors including animal cruelty, arson, rape, and murder. When this movie was released, the director, Ruggero Deodato, told the main actors, largely unknown, to lay low for about a year so as to continue the illusion that they did actually disappear and meet terrible fates in the jungle. Which worked too well, as Deodato was arrested and charged with making a snuff film. The actors did come out of obscurity to clear him, but still. Yikes. So what is MY experience with this infamous horror movie? As a huge and avid horror fan, I wanted to show how edgy and hardcore I was and watched that movie a couple years ago. And let me say,  an hour and a half of gratuitous violence and multiple graphic rape scenes isn’t the best way to spend a day off, especially if you are feverish.

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I take it back, I’m neither edgy nor hardcore (source)

I was absolutely disgusted and repulsed by this movie. BUT, when my mother sent me an email about a new book called “We Eat Our Own”, it sounded very familiar. It sounded like the behind the scenes malarkey that went on during the filming of “Cannibal Holocaust”, but in the form of a horror novel. Okay, FINE, as much as that movie made me sick to my stomach, this premise had me TOTALLY SOLD!!!! A horror novel about the production of a “Cannibal Holocaust”-esque film? This clearly is going to be totally screwy and nasty and kind of fun and over the top, right?!

Well, not totally. Kea Wilson’s “We Eat Our Own” is very much based on the filming of “Cannibal Holocaust”, but it’s written in so many interesting ways that it felt less like a horror novel and more like an experimental literary one. For one thing, there are no quotation marks around the dialog, nor are there always indents when a new person is talking. But the most glaring experiment is that whenever the chapter is about the Unnamed American Actor, who is referred to by his character’s name (Richard), it is written in the second person (“You get a call from your agent, you go to pack your bags” etc), giving us an immersive experience for about half of the content of the book. While at first I thought that a second person perspective would limit the reader, Wilson worked around it by saying “you know this, but what you don’t know is that…”, and then tell us about the other characters in the scene or what’s going to happen to “Richard” in the future. I will admit that at first it was hard for me to wrap my mind around these devices. After all, I was kind of expecting a straight forward horror novel about a doomed production team (why I assumed everyone would actually die when that is not what happened in it’s real life inspiration, I couldn’t tell you). Instead I got a writing experiment that touched on more than just what was happening to the production team. I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me a little bit of time to really get into this book because of this style, but once I figured it out I actually really liked it, especially the parts where it would say “what you don’t know is that this extra is going to be running away and escaping her circumstances…”, because it found a really great way to learn more about these other characters without compromising the device.

The other chapters that aren’t “Richard’s”/the reader’s POV focus on other characters involved in the circumstances, be they that of crew members, the other actors, or the locals who are dealing with their own violent circumstances. Wilson takes the time to address not only the quagmire that is happening in the jungle at the time, but also the tenuous political situation that is simmering in Colombia. While an Italian filmmaker and his predominantly Western crew are trying to make a movie about cannibalistic and stereotypical tribal violence, there is unrest in the town that they are in, as a group of M-19 guerrillas are starting to boil over with tension, as they have a kidnapped Venezuelan attaché in their custody and are trying to plan an attack. An American who has set up shop in town has hooked them up with a cartel, and now things are on the brink of an explosion of violence. While it was great to see an acknowledgment of the ills going on in Colombia at the time, some of which were the result of remnants of Western colonialism and the drug trade that fueled Western noses at the time, these were the parts of the story that were the hardest for me to get into. The writing style is jumpy and at times haphazard enough, so to jump completely from one storyline to another was harder for me to follow. That being said, Wilson did a great job of showing how all of these characters are connected, and masterfully weaved them all together. There were times that we would get the conclusions to some storylines of other chapters through the eyes of another chapter and the character that it was following, which I really liked. It was also really biting to show an Italian filmmaker and his crew making a movie that perpetuates a brutal and dangerous stereotype about a group of people in Colombia (specifically the Yąnomamö), only to find themselves in a violent situation that has been built up by Western greed and entitlement.

Thinking about this book more and really dissecting it, I quite enjoyed “We Eat Our Own”. Don’t go in thinking that it’s your run of the mill horror novel. It’s definitely more complex than I expected it to be, and I think that Kea Wilson is definitely an author that I am going to be on the look out for as time goes on.

Rating 8: A complex and twisty exploration of both politics and a filmmaker’s obsession, “We Eat Our Own” is a compelling work of literary horror, and a love letter to one of horror’s most infamous movies.

Reader’s Advisory:

So the two Goodreads lists that “We Eat Our Own” is on are very broad and vague and have nothing to do with the story itself. That said, I think that it is quite reminiscent to “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James in tone and political message, and I also think that the list “Amazon Rainforest” might have similar themed books on it.

Find “We Eat Our Own” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 2: “Children of the Fog”

19778048Book: “Children of the Fog” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline,  January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Terrible deeds are afoot in the Blackwood forest. The ruthless Fane and his men have not given up their search for the Frith family vault, and the people of Pinehold are paying the price. Wydrin, Sebastian and Lord Frith are the only hope for the tortured and the dying … but between them and revenge are the eerie Children of the Fog.

Review: I started the second novella in this series in a much more confident state than I did the last (in that I wasn’t completely befuddled by what exactly I was reading!). And not only did this new sense of clarity improve my reading experience, but this second showing in the series was significantly stronger than the last.

Picking up immediately where the previous story left off, Wydrn, Sebastian and Lord Frith find themselves teleported (Frith’s new-found mage magic being completely out of control) to the middle of nowhere. Also known as “bear country.”

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If only they had a household cat with them…(source)

But after few near misses in said bear department, the group of adventurers stumble upon a familiar township that is under the control of Frith’s tormentors from the first story who are now torturing the town’s citizens in hopes of finding the secret Frith vault rumored to be filled with treasure and hidden in the woods. Hyjinks ensue.

In almost every way I felt that this story improved upon the first. Whereas the first story was trying to introduce readers to these new characters while also get through a complete, though short, adventure story arc, this novella has room to commit to the story itself, knowing that readers are already familiar with our protagonists. Small details still are leaking out regarding Sebastian’s past and the strange connection he now seems to have to the Amazon-like warrior women who, along with their dragon “mother,” are now terrorizing the land. Frith is…still kind of an entitled jerk, but I can see some small improvements as he learns to maybe…sort of..try to be a decent person. And Wydrin is still her snarky, capable self. Honestly, she’s the only thing holding this ragtag group together at this point!

I also enjoyed the adventure arc in this story more than the last. The side-characters who are introduced are fun, and the magical elements that come into play were unique and interesting. Particularly Holley and her magical glass work!

But, most surprising, was the inclusion of several chapters told from the perspective of the Amazon warrior dragon women (honestly, I don’t know how else to describe them!). At first I was a little put off by these seemingly random chapters, but as the story continued, they almost became my favorite part! Essentially, their arc is that of children discovering the world around them, forming their own identity, and questioning everything they see. It was a very unexpected turn to the overall arc, and I’m excited to see where we go next with these characters!

All in all, I highly enjoyed this second installation in “The Copper Promise” series. If you weren’t immediately captured by the first novella in the series, just as I wasn’t, I recommend giving it a second go with this one!

Rating 8: An improved adventure arc, and some very unexpected, but welcome, twists!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Children of the Fog” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Dragons” and “Treasure Hunter Thrillers.”

Find “Children of the Fog” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Ghosts of the Citadel”

Kate’s Review: “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor”

10869746Book: “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Publishing Info: Macmillam Audio, October 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Following in the footsteps of the New York Times best-selling graphic novels and the record-breaking new television show, this debut novel in a trilogy of original Walking Dead books chronicles the back story of the comic book series’ greatest villain, The Governor.
In the Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. The despot who runs the walled-off town of Woodbury, he has his own sick sense of justice: whether it’s forcing prisoners to battle zombies in an arena for the townspeople’s amusement, or chopping off the appendages of those who cross him. The Governor was voted “Villain of the Year” by Wizard magazine the year he debuted, and his story arc was the most controversial arc in the history of The Walking Dead comic book series. Now, for the first time, fans of The Walking Dead will discover how The Governor became the man he is, and what drove him to such extremes.

Review: I am a casual fan of “The Walking Dead” television show, and I used to be a huge fan of the comics (that is, until I found that moment that just made me say ‘okay, this is far too depressing now, I’m done’). One of the most jarring, upsetting, and well thought out storylines from the comics, and probably the show too, was that of Woodbury and it’s despicable leader Philip Blake, aka The Governor. While he is an antagonist in both mediums, I would say that I probably prefer him on the show as opposed to the comics. In the comics, The Governor is supremely evil, but almost in an over the top kind of way and just there to shock and disgust you, without having any depth or dimension to him. On the show he was more complex and nuanced, so while he was still reprehensible in a lot of ways, he at least remained interesting. And plus, it helped that David Morrissey played him and made him super easy on the eyes.

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Hottie alert. (source)

I’ve known about the prequel “Governor” trilogy for awhile, but I just decided to give it a go recently because it’s been awhile since I’ve read the comics, and I sort of wanted to see if Robert Kirkman was going to make him a bit more rounded by showing how he became the monster that he is. The first in this series is “Rise of the Governor”. Going into it I knew to expect something dark and nasty. I guess I just wasn’t prepared by how dark and nasty it was.

Kirkman achieves giving one of his most notorious villains a back story that both humanizes him and shows just how he could turn into the monster he becomes. And I mean a monster. In this book we follow Philip Blake, his brother Brian, and his daughter Penny right after the zombie infection has taken hold. So we get to see Philip turn from doting father with a sweet daughter into a blood thirsty murderer/rapist who is toting his zombified daughter around on a chain leash. How fun. But even though it’s incredibly depressing and incredibly dark, giving The Governor a back story ultimately does a service to the character. It’s not that we feel sorry for him after all of this has happened. I mean, we do, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. What it does do is show how even a normal guy like him can be so transformed and so mutated that you don’t even recognize him anymore. Philip’s relationships with his companions are all intricate and special in their own ways. Yes, he has a touching relationship with Penny (I will never, ever not be saddened by sweet innocent Penny), but I also liked the complexities and realism of the relationship he has with his older brother Brian. Brian is a very fascinating character as well, and his point of view is the other dominant one in the book. He’s a man who has always been seen as a loser and a black sheep before the world ends, outshined by and dependent on his little brother. And when he finds himself in a new world, he too starts to slowly transform from kind of a weenie, into a protector (as he is the one who cares after Penny the most), and finally into a hardened and cold person who is on a dark, dark path. The transformations of the two brothers are slow and agonizing, and I found myself aching for them both knowing what was coming. After all, The Governor has no brother to speak of in the comics, and you get attached to Brian as the voice of reason and the guy who is just trying to keep everything together. But even then, Kirkman manages to surprise his readers, as this story isn’t without it’s twists to keep us on our toes. I had an inkling that not all was as it seemed, but the fact that I could still just be gutted by the big reveal near the end (no spoilers) really goes to show how Kirkman relentlessly goes for the jugular.

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This was pretty much how I spent my last moments of this book. (source)

That said, while I did enjoy the background given to The Governor, and while it made me want to smother myself because of the feelings, this book sort of reminded me why I gave up on these comics when I did. I was able to get through some of the darker arcs in the series, The Governor included, but there were many times that I was so disgusted and upset that I had to pace myself through the panels lest I feel sick, until I just said ‘okay, that’s enough’ and just set it down for good. And this book was a grim reminder that Kirkman pushes boundaries and doesn’t hold back. So I have to give this book a lot of trigger warnings, not the least of which being graphic depictions of rape. There are two rape scenes in this book, both of which are brutal and very hard to listen to or read, depending on your medium. Like many people, I have a hard time when it comes to rape in storylines, and I am always very conscientious to try and disseminate to what end it is being used in regards to the story. While I know that these two separate scenes are important turning points in Philip’s arc, that’s just the problem: they are all about him and never about the women that he is victimizing. That isn’t to say that it isn’t absolutely horrible; I never felt that it was exploitative or titillating. But I did feel that Kirkman used rape as a way to show how horrible Phillip is, when there were PLENTY of other reasons to think that he was horrible. I don’t know. I have a hard time. It didn’t feel totally distasteful like some portrayals in recent pop culture. But it certainly didn’t feel necessary either.

Finally I should note the format. I did listen to this on audiobook, not sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. The narrator, Fred Berman, did an excellent job. His voice was malleable enough that he could change it effortlessly. All of the characters had distinct tones and voices, and he managed to believably play Penny, which I have to give him serious props for. Not all grown men can pull off the voice of an eight year old girl and not sound at least a little ridiculous.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but then again, what “Walking Dead” fan is faint of heart? “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” is a great addition to the universe, and I think that all fans who enjoyed the Governor storyline should give it a go. Just be warned: it goes about as gruesomely as a Governor story could possibly go.

Rating 8: A well written backstory to a very dark character, “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” is brutal and devastating. Though sometimes it piles on the violence in an unnecessary way, it is ultimately a great addition to “The Walking Dead” canon.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Zombiefied”, and “Adult Dystopian Books”.

Find “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Dreamer’s Pool”

17305016Book: “Dreamer’s Pool” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Roc, November 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

Review: The third book in this series is coming out in November, so I wanted to get a head start and officially review the first two!

Juliet Marillier is hands down one of my all-time favorite authors, so I was thrilled when I heard that she was starting a new series, and I wasn’t disappointed! Told with her trademark lyrical language and set in a Fey-inhabited land with strong ties to Celtic folklore, Marillier introduces two completely unique main characters who instantly grabbed my attention and devotion.

Blackthorn is essentially the character that Marillier’s former leading ladies would have become if things hadn’t worked out as well for them. As an author, she’s known for writing young, competent, strong-willed women who often have a background as healers and storytellers. And typically, through their won drive and strength of character, they overcome the odds that are set against them and go on to live fulfilling, happy lives (though sometimes in bizarre circumstances). Blackthorn could have been one of these women, but her story ends tragically, leaving her angry, bitter, and, in many ways, hopeless with regards to humanity.

Grim, too, has a tragic, if as of now still unknown, backstory. His response to life’s blows has been to retreat to stoicism and a crippling lack of self-worth. But in Blackthorn he finds new purpose, and together, these two begin to re-discover what it takes to live outside of the prison they had been buried in together for so long.

These two characters, very much outside of Marillier’s usual type, are so tragically beautiful and real. They are both flawed individuals who must confront their own personal demons, and yet, somehow, form a deep and meaningful connection to each other. At this point, their relationship is completely platonic, and I enjoyed it all the more for this fact. It’s a lovely depiction of adult friendship and an example of familial bonds outside of traditional roles.

The story alternates between Blackthorn, Grim, and then Oran, a young prince who is thrown into a mystery with the arrival of his to-be-bride Flidais. I have to say, Oran was by far my least favorite character. His “love at first sight” relationship with Flidais pushed the bounds of believability , and in general, I found his arc less engaging than that of Blackthorn and Grim. Judging from this book, it seems that Marillier is almost writing a fantasy mystery series where Blackthorn and Grim aide another one-shot character through some magical plight. I really like this set-up; however, I’m less sure that including chapters from the perspective of these one-shot characters is the best approach. I feel that I would have enjoyed the story as a whole more had it only been told from the perspective of Blackthorn and Grim.

The set-up of the story, with Blackthorn’s agreement to help anyone who asks for aide for seven years, seems to be a clear indication that Marillier hopes to make this a long-running series. Based on the strengths of this book (the always-fantastic storytelling, and most especially, the incredible characters of Blackthorn and Grim), I truly hope that this is the case!

Rating 8: Blackthorn and Grim shine as atypical characters not often seen in a fantasy novel!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dreamer’s Pool” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Adult Fairytale Fantasy”, and “Great Celtic Fiction.”

Find “Dreamer’s Pool” at your library using WorldCat.

Serena’s Review: “Lion in the Valley”

40495Book: “Lion in the Valley

Publishing Info: Atheneum, 1986

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: The 1895-96 season promises to be an exceptional one for Amelia Peabody, her dashing Egyptologist husband Emerson, and their wild and precocious eight-year-old son Ramses. The much-coveted burial chamber of the Black Pyramid in Dahshoor is theirs for the digging. But there is a great evil in the wind that roils the hot sands sweeping through the bustling streets and marketplace of Cairo. The brazen moonlight abduction of Ramses–and an expedition subsequently cursed by misfortune and death–have alerted Amelia to the likly presence of her arch nemesis the Master Criminal, notorious looter of the living and the dead. But it is far more than ill-gotten riches that motivates the evil genius this time around. For now the most valuable and elusive prized of all is nearly in his grasp: the meddling lady archaeologist who has sworn to deliver him to justice . . . Amelia Peabody!

Review: I’ve come to another conclusion for why I love this series so much (yes, these reviews are steadily devolving into “Amelia Peabody lovefests,” but who cares, I do what I want!) And that reason is that, much to my younger sister’s chagrin, as a kid I absolutely loved the 1999 “The Mummy” and insisted we watch it at least monthly for years. And much of my love revolved around the character Evelyn. I mean, I went on to become a librarian and dressed up as her for Halloween only two years ago, so…yeah, it’s kind of a thing. Anyways, as I read these books, I can’t help put picture Amelia as a kindred spirit for Evelyn and interchange their looks in my imaginary version of the character.

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Change out the name for “Emerson” and this is Amelia to a T! (source)

Another archeological season is upon the Peabody/Emerson family, and this year they have snagged the good stuff, receiving a permit to work on the much-desired and mysterious Black Pyramid site that they had been denied the year before. But, of course, much to Emerson’s continual despair, a dig is not a dig with Amelia without much mystery, drama, and a good murder or two.

But Emerson’s own passions are immediately involved with the attempted abduction of their young son, Ramses. However, much as this enrages him, he remains skeptical of Amelia’s “Master Criminal” theories regarding an unknown man who has set himself up as her personal nemesis. And in this case, I hear ya, Emerson! I, too, was a bit skeptical about the leaps of logic that are required to create Amelia’s “Master Criminal” plot, but, of course, Amelia is always right and I should trust! From a plausibility viewpoint as a reader, however, there might have been a few hoops too many that I was asked to jump through in order to buy-in to this concept.

In many ways, this story contained a lot more action than we’ve seen in previous books. Right away with the attempted kidnapping, things are now happening directly to the members of the main family itself, not hapless bystanders that we pick up for one novel’s worth of attention. The increased stakes here immediately make the story that much more thrilling. And, like I said in my previous review, Ramses has grown on me quite a bit, and his response to this particular incident was quite good.

As these stories are all told from Amelia’s perspective, we always view the story through her eyes and perspective. However, the mysteries themselves are often a few steps away from her own actions (though she, of course, always involves herself immediately). With this case, the mystery itself is largely focused on her; SHE is the action of the story. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Without spoilers, I did enjoy the ending quite a lot, however I had a few qualms with bits of it. The “Master Criminal” himself was sufficiently creepy and I appreciated Amelia’s handling of herself during this section of the book. I wasn’t quite sold on the ultimate resolution of things. Amelia clearly doesn’t sit aside while things happen to and around her, but I feel that the story, and character, could have been better served if a few tropes had been avoided near the end. This is sufficiently vague as to be an annoying commentary, I know, but alas, it’s hard to discuss ending without getting into spoilers!

All told, I very much enjoyed this fourth book in the series. While I particularly enjoyed the direct focus of the mystery being on Amelia and her family, there were a few questionable points in the logic leaps required for Amelia/Emerson to put together the clues, and the ending maybe could have used a few more tweaks. But, if you’re reading this series and enjoying it, pick up this one immediately!

Rating 8: Yada yada, of course I loved it, yada yada!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lion in the Valley” is included on these Goodreads lists: “I shot the Pharaoh – Novels on Egyptian Myths and Mysteries”, and “The Funniest Books Ever Written (Any Genre).”

Find “Lion in the Valley” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case”