Kate’s Review: “Altamont”

28435534Book: “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin

Publishing Info: Dey Street Books, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.

In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock—the day that shattered the Sixties’ promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth—until now.

Altamont explores rock’s darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show—from the Stones’ hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening—to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead’s role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band’s behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security.

The product of twenty years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, and featuring sixteen pages of color photos, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.

Review: I’m going to take on a new responsibility here, guys! I’ve decided that I’m going to start reviewing the occasional non-fiction book as well as the other genres that I’m tackling. I don’t read non-fiction as much as fiction, but I have been reading enough pretty good stuff that I want to share it with you guys! So I’m starting this off with “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin. I went through a phase in high school where I listened to a lot of rock and roll from the mid to late 1960s, and went so far as to try and dress up like a hippie when I went to school (though admittedly I probably was more akin to an anti-war protester, as my Mom was my inspiration and I went off old photos of her as my template). Hell, my first ever concert was CSNY in 9th grade (also because of my folks). I had heard of the Altamont Concert in passing by my parents and the cultural impression it left, but didn’t know much beyond the Hells Angels stabbing Meredith Hunter to death while the Rolling Stones played. But that’s where Selvin comes in. Because he taught me quite a bit.

What I liked about this book is that it didn’t just cover the concert: it covered events that influenced the decision to have the concert, and the days leading up to it. I had not realized that by the time Altamont rolled around, The Rolling Stones were practically broke. I’ve never lived in a world where The Stones weren’t legends, so to think that at one point they were having monetary problems was mind blowing. They were still kind of living off the image of being a tour that packed in teenage girls, even though they had started to experiment with harder and edgier sounds like ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. They hadn’t toured in awhile, and the tour that Altamont was part of was going to be a quick effort to make some cash. I also hadn’t realized that Altamont was basically thrown together in a short period of time, and moved locations in even shorter time. The information that was provided in this book really opened my eyes to how the poor planning happened, and why everything was so haphazard.

Selvin also did a lot of good research about the people who attended this concert, from Meredith Hunter (the victim of the stabbing), to his girlfriend, to other people in the audience who were injured or killed during or right after Altamont. Everyone hears about Hunter’s death, but I had no idea that some drugged out people jumped into ravines, off bridges, and had terrible car accidents. Not only that, a member of Jefferson Airplane was knocked out by an Angel, and poor Stephen Stills was repeatedly gouged with a bike spoke by another one WHILE HE WAS ON STAGE SINGING.  It all seems like such a contrast to Woodstock, which has gone down in legend as a peace, love, rock and roll fest…when in reality, it sounds like it really just got lucky that it didn’t have the same awful stuff that Altamont had. Though admittedly, the Hells Angels played a part in that. But even the Angels Selvin really looked into. While it would certainly be easy to chalk it all up to these guys being violent thugs (and hey, they were), he also makes sure to point out that they too got pretty screwed over in a way here. They were not prepared to work security for such a huge show, and their own biker culture was in direct conflict with the druggie hippie culture, with neither side trying to understand the other (I too would be pissed if I had a motorcycle that a bunch of drugged out kids kept touching and knocking over).

My one qualm that I had with this book is that Selvin, while trying to ease blame off of the usual suspects and showing it as a perfect storm of nonsense, kind of throws the Stones under the bus a little bit. Do I think that the Stones were idiots to agree to this entire thing given how shoddily planned it was? Totally. Do I think that Jagger was disingenuous in his dealings with the press when asked about pricing for their tickets? Yes indeed. But Jagger was twenty six. Richards was twenty five. Grown men, yes, but young, and they had been surrounded by yes men for a few years whose jobs were to shield them from this stuff. It’s not fair to humanize the Hells Angels, who were stabbing, beating, and roughing up concertgoers, and then imply that the Stones were to blame for all the violence. I call bullshit on that. And I also wonder how witnessing this traumatic event, liability in question or not, affected the members of the band. After all, shortly thereafter at least Richards starting doing heavier drugs than he usually experimented with. It may not be connected but it did raise some questions.

Overall, this was an engrossing book that intrigued and disturbed me. I appreciated learning more about this notorious rock concert, and looking into how things can, and will, go wrong, to the point where there’s no turning back.

Rating 8: A very well researched book about a shitshow of a rock concert that has become notorious. Selvin gave more info than I expected, and told me many new things about Altamont, all messed up and disturbing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Altamont” is not on many lists yet, as it’s a fairly new book. But I think it would fit in on “Best Books on Rock and Roll”, and “The Rolling Stones”

Find “Altamont” at your library using WorldCat!.

 

Serena’s Review: “Conjured”

17286817Book: “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Info: Walker Childrens, September 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

Review: I’ve read several of Sarah Beth Durst’s books in the past, and they are if anything, always unique. So when I discovered this one, with its creepy carnival imagery, amnesia, and serial killer nemesis, I knew that the story would be in the hands of an author capable of fully taking advantage of these elements.

The story started off slowly for me, to be honest. While Eve’s amnesia is an important part of the story, it also leaves the reader in an awkward place being equally (perhaps even more so!) in the dark as she is. We’re pretty much plopped down into a situation with no background information and a narrator who doesn’t know anymore than we do, but who is clearly involved in something nefarious, with hints being thrown every direction by other characters. Durst also wasn’t in a rush to resolve this. I was about a third of the way into the book before I started feeling truly invested in the story. And while this is a rather large hurdle to leap for many readers, I would say the later pay off is definitely worth it.

Eve herself is such a unique narrator. Her voice is so strange and it speaks to the deftness of Durst’s abilities that she can show Eve’s growth through even the most minute of changes in Eve’s outlook on what goes on around her. When the reveal comes towards the end of the story, I actually found myself paging back through the book trying to spot these change points, many of which I missed in my initial read through.

As for the twist itself, parts of it I was able to guess, but others came completely out of the blue. The motivation of the villain, Eve’s true back story in relation to the villain, was both heart breaking and distinctly chilling. I particularly appreciated the fact that the story is not quickly wrapped up once some of these twists become clear and we get to fully explore the reality of these developments and spend time in this new world order.

Further, the confusion and distrust that leads to these reveals were excellent. Eve has been told everything, she remembers/knows none of it for herself. So as she begins to question those around her, so do we, the reader. Her bouts of amnesia were both frustrating and refreshingly new to this type of story. She isn’t just a narrator who doesn’t remember her past but whose stories unfolds neatly from there on out. Eve keeps forgetting. Between chapters even! Like I said, frustrating, but also very interesting.

As for supporting characters, these were a bit more hit and miss. I loved Malcom from the get go, and grew to love his partner as well. However, I was less thrilled with the three other teens Eve meets: Aiden, Victoria, and Topher. They seemed like a neat idea, but ultimately, I feel like they didn’t even need to be in the story. Very little of the outcome would have been changed, and they were often so unlikable that I found myself wanting to skim read through their portions.

And as for the love interest, Zack…I just don’t know. There are elements of his character that I liked, but he never fully recovered for me from his introductory line of dialogue when first meeting Eve:“I think it’s a shame that it’s customary to shake hands upon greeting when what I really want to do is kiss your lips and see if you taste like strawberries.”

5371895_orig
(source)

Personally, if a guy introduced himself to me that way the door would be slammed on the chance of us even be acquaintances, let alone romantically involved, right then and there. It’s supposed to be twisted together with Zack’s defining characteristic: he does not tell lies. And while this plays an important role later in the story, I think there is an obvious miss between “not telling lies” and “not spewing out every ridiculous-bordering-on-creepy thought that comes into your head to a complete stranger.”

Slow start and creepy Zack aside, once pieces of the mystery started fitting together, I couldn’t put this book down. If you like dark, fantasy stories and can be patient with unreliable narrators and a slow start, definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: Slow build to an awesome resolution.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Conjured” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tales for Grown Children” and “YA & Middle Grade Circus/Carnivals/Amusement Parks.”

Find “Conjured” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Bookclub Review: “A Brief History of Montmaray”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have gone the extra mile and created our own bookclub. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Across the Decades,” we each drew a decade and had to select a book that was either published or set in that decade.

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

6341739Book: “A Brief History of Montmaray” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2009

Where Did We Get This Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

Kate’s Thoughts

So as a fan of “Downton Abbey”, and as a fan of kicking the shit out of Nazis, I had high hopes that “A Brief History of Montmaray” would combine the best of both worlds. I had this vision of Mary Crawley punching an S.S. officer in the face a la “Indiana Jones” while making some snippy and cruel remark, and in my mind that was just the best damn thing that I had ever thought of in the history of ever, crossover wise.

giphy1
And she’ll never tell where the bodies are buried either. (source)

While the book did have some likable characters (the cousin Veronica, in particular) overall I was a bit disappointed that “A Brief History of Montmaray” was more focused on the dysfunctional, if quirky, royal family and the problems that they are facing in love, life, and succession. Our narrator, Sophie, is pretty good at laying out the family lines and showing how the royal family connects to each other (King John has no male heir, so the next in line should be his nephew Toby, Sophie’s older brother). Sophie, not having as much investment in the royal line to the throne, is a good choice for narrator, as she doesn’t have the pressure of being a direct heir like her brother, nor does she have the frustration of being an ineligible heir like her cousin based solely on her gender. Because of this she can present a pretty fair view of how things are supposed to work in this family. She is a fine narrator and a good lens to see these conflicts, but at the same time she isn’t as interesting as I wanted her to be. I much preferred Veronica, the incredibly intelligent and capable daughter of the King, who would make a fine queen if only Montmaray approved of female succession. She was by far the most interesting character, as she has so much more interest in her home country than Toby, the flaky rightful heir. It’s the perfect example of an unjust and sexist society that is probably really screwing itself over. Veronica is also quite well rounded, probably the most well rounded of all the characters. She is cunning and ambitious, but also loves her home and her family, so much so that she puts rightful succession above all else even though you know she is aching for it. Had the story been following Veronica’s POV, I think that I would have been able to forgive it a bit more for not focusing on the Nazi storyline, and the storyline about how Europe was in serious, serious danger at this time. I do realize that this is a series and that there were two other novels to focus on that, and that this novel was more about introducing us to this family. But to me, the family wasn’t the part that I wanted to focus on outside of Veronica. It was a bit too “I Capture The Castle” for me, a book that I recognize as being significant and a classic, but one that I also am not terribly fond of as a whole.

And yes, I’m resentful that there weren’t enough Nazis, at least not as much as the summary would suggest. True, the Germans do land on Montmaray, sending the FitzOsbourne family into turmoil for many reasons. But they are there for a moment in the middle, and then come back at the end. The rest of the book is about the family and their squabbles and scandals. And hey, I like a nice soap as much as the next person, but it all felt kind of trite compared to the things I knew were coming, even further into the series. It’s hard for me to care about awful (AWFUL) housekeepers and their stupid secrets when I know that a whole lot of awful pain is about to rain down on the rest of Europe. And maybe for me it’s still a little raw since there was recently just footage of a bunch of these guys doing the Hitler salute in D.C. But had I known that the family malarky and hoopla was going to be the focus (aka, more “Downton” and less “Indiana Jones”), my expectations would have been more in line with how it turned out, and therefore I would have been more receptive to it. As it was, I kept saying to myself “BUT WHEN ARE ALL THE NAZIS GOING TO REALLY GET THEIR COMEUPPANCE?!”

giphy2
Preferably in this kind of endgame situation. (source)

So I think that it’s fair to say that “A Brief History of Montmaray” was at a disadvantage because of misplaced expectations. It’s not necessarily the fault of Cooper, but more so how it was promoted. I loved Veronica, but that was about the only thing that I really enjoyed, and sadly that’s not really enough to keep me going.

Serena’s Thoughts

This book had been on my reading list for a while as it was well reviewed by several other blogs that I followed. And when I ended up with the 30s as my decade of choice for our bookclub theme this go-around, it seemed like a perfect time to finally get around to it!

As the historical fiction reviewer on this blog, it’s probably not a surprise that I enjoyed this book more than Kate. For the most part, the historical detail is what captures me in these stories, and I enjoy books about quirky families (ala “Anne of Green Gables” and Jane Austen novels). The addition of a bit more action than is usually found in this type of book was the extra cherry on the top for me.

I agree with Kate’s assessment of the characters themselves. Sophie was an interesting narrator and I enjoyed the transformation she goes through during this book. The combination of teenage silliness mixed with a healthy dose of self-awareness with regards to said silliness made her a very endearing teenage protagonist. Veronica, however, is the type of character I generally gravitate towards. Intelligent, snappy, and a girl who firmly has her head on her shoulders. Seriously, nothing would get done if Veronica wasn’t there. And she has by far the most challenging set of circumstances to deal with, what with the sexism involved in the rules of ascension and the terrible family life (crazy dad who hates her, abandoned by her mother).

As for the boys involved, I found myself increasingly frustrated with Simon, the set up love interest for Sophie. I couldn’t help agreeing with Veronica’s assessment of him as a bit of a self-serving prat. And while I generally liked Toby, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed with his selfishness. I mean, the guy gets to go out and live in the world to go to school, make friends, be in society, and, yes, there are responsibilities to being the heir, but that’s a huge amount of privilege, too. So for him to whine to his cousin and sisters who are living in a castle that is literally falling down around them and who have no friends of any sort really just seems ridiculous and made me want to slap some sense into him.

As for the Nazi involvement: I actually really appreciated that this book didn’t go the expected route with them. There was a lot of discussion with regards to the political climate in Europe and it does a lot to remind modern readers that the Nazi party didn’t just sprout out of the ground fully formed. There were a lot of moving pieces and many years went by before it became clear just what everyone was dealing with. There were some interesting nuggets that were very…Indiana Jones-ish…and were quite fun, and another lesser used mode of introducing Nazis into the story. I do agree that the book summary can be misleading, so if you go into it expecting clashes with Nazis and said comeuppance served upon them it might not be for you. However, given the year that this is set in, and that it’s the first in a trilogy, I guess I was more prepared for delayed gratification re: Nazi destruction.

All in all, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It’s definitely more geared towards readers who enjoy slower paced historical novels. There’s a good amount of family drama, family mystery ala books like “Rebecca,” and historical detail. And, while there is action and Nazis towards the end, those aspects definitely come later and don’t take up as much page time as the rest.

Kate’s Rating 6: Though I greatly enjoyed the character of Veronica, overall the story didn’t match my expectations, and therefore didn’t grab me as I thought it would.

Serena’s Rating 8: Strong historical detail and interesting characters, though beware the lighter Nazi involvement if that’s what you were here for!

Bookclub Questions:

1.) How did we feel about Sophie as a narrator? What do you think the story would have been like if it had been told from the perspective of a different character?

2.) Montmaray is an imaginary kingdom that is meant to exist in an otherwise historically accurate version of Europe. Did it succeed in this way? Were there aspects of the historical set-up that you particularly enjoyed or found distracting?

3.) The Nazis: How did you feel about them? Their entrance into the story, their mission, and the resolution to their involvement?

4) For a first-person narrated story, it feels as if we get a good amount of detail about many of the side characters. Were there characters who stood out? What about Rebeca and Simon?

5) The book does seem to involve some supernatural elements, how did you feel about this inclusion and twist?

6.) This is the first in a trilogy. Where do you think/want the story to go from here?

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Brief History of Montmaray” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Fiction Set During WWII”, and “Best YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “A Brief History of Montmaray” at your library using WorldCat.

The Next Book Selection: Not sure yet! We’re at the switching point between one “season” and another. For our next theme, we all chose two things (“a book that’s been turned into a musical!” or “a book about animals!”) and had to draw from a hat for our own options. We’ll see what comes up!

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light”

29277919Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.

Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.

When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.

We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?

Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is still not on any lists on Goodreads. Again, try “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. Oh, and for another intriguing take on possession, give “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” a whirl too!

Find “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol. 1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”, “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”.

Kate’s Review: “Before The Fall”

26245850Book: “Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley

Publication Info: Grand Central Publishing, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations–all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Review: For the past couple of years I have been OBSESSED with the FX show “Fargo”. I love the movie, but the show has knocked it out of the park the two seasons it has been on, with a third coming up in the nearish future. I seriously can’t wait because I LOVE this show, and I love how it portrays the deep and violent underbellies of Minnesota life. While still being so damn Minnesotan.

giphy5
(source)

Little did I realize that Noah Hawley, the showrunner for that series, is also an author. I didn’t realize this until after I had checked out his most recent novel “Before The Fall”, and once I did I was pretty damn excited and even more intrigued by it. Hawley has a skill for writing and creating complex and nuanced characters, as seen in Bear and Peggy and Molly and Lorne Malvo on the show he’s in charge of. It shouldn’t be much surprise that he brought that same skill and nuance to a number of his characters in “Before The Fall”. Well, a few of them anyway.

Since the cast is characters is pretty big and their fates sealed from the get go, Hawley only has to really show a little bit of motivation for how each person got on this ill fated plane, and what role, if any, they played in it’s crash. Much of the focus, however, is on former addict and down on his luck painter Scott, an artist with a need to try and understand tragedy and accidents even before he survives a plane crash. Scott is by far the most interesting character in this book, because it is mostly through his eyes that we see the aftermath of such a tragedy. I liked Scott as a character, a pretty good guy trying to figure himself out who finds himself the center of a tragedy, and the person that everyone is trying to get answers from. He wasn’t necessarily a hero in a stereotypical sense; he did what he could in an emergency and was able to save himself and J.J., the four year old lone survivor to a media fortune. But of course the fact he isn’t perfect or the ideal heroic figure, that works against him in the eyes of some, which was a fascinating angle to take. He is a wonderful foil to Eleanor, J.J.’s aunt through his mother, who has been thrust into motherhood while in intense grief. Both Scott and Eleanor care very deeply about J.J., but neither of them really know how to adjust to their new roles that have been heaped upon them, be it hero or mother. It seemed kind of on the nose that Eleanor’s husband Doug was just the worst, more interested in dollar signs than his wife or nephew as they navigate their grief, but he just goes to show that Eleanor is strong, and deep. Perhaps his two dimensional characterization is just there to bolster her when she can stand on her own two feet, but I liked having a clear person to hate, so that’s fine!

And along with that, we see how the world tries to make sense, and tries to point fingers towards blame, and how the media (especially media with vested interests in outcomes) can drive a narrative. The media has been accused of influencing people’s opinions a lot lately, especially in the sense of putting info out there that isn’t totally true, or is flat out false. “Before The Fall” focuses a lot on this plot point, as one of the victims, David Bateman, was the head of a Fox News-esque network that is very controversial because of how it spins things or emphasizes sensationalism over facts. The face of the network, Bill Cunningham, is both incredibly stereotypical and yet one of the more intriguing character in the book, as his need to know what happened to his friend and mentor completely clouds his already super cloudy professional judgement. This of course leads to a very bloodthirsty Witch Hunt that his viewers, and other media, partake in. On one hand you feel for him because he’s very clearly in mourning, but on the other he’s such a bastard for exploiting this tragedy for ratings that you can’t help but hate him as well. So yeah, a bit stereotypical, but at the same time you kind of have to wonder about him. He never really gets a full exploration like many of the other players, but isn’t just flat and boring in his wretchedness like Doug. Friggin’ Doug.

I enjoyed how this book slowly revealed the backstories of the victims of the plane crash, showing the things happening in their immediate lives right before their deaths, or in some cases the events that REALLY put them on this path. I do think that it was kind of a fizzle out in some ways, however, as while we get all this background, so much of it doesn’t really end up being totally relevant to the plot and the outcome. But then, that in and of itself is kind of perfect, because that’s the point. Sometimes things happen, randomly, coincidentally, and these things may not actually matter in the long run, at least at the end of all things. These things may just happen but other things outside of your control can change your destiny. That’s the problem Cunningham never quite figures out, and while some may find it to be pointless, I find it poignant as all get out. And so very “Fargo”.

So while it ended up taking me on a long chase and sometimes superfluously, I did end up really enjoying “Before The Fall”. The twists and turns were a fun ride, and I liked how it ended even if it wasn’t what I have come to expect from thriller mysteries such as these. I say check it out.

Rating 8: A well characterized thriller with a lot of interesting plot paths. Though some characters are flat and obvious, many are very intricate and fascinating, and the ideas the book explored were very good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before the Fall” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books of Secrets”, and “What She’s Reading This Summer”.

Find “Before The Fall” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 4: “Upon the Ashen Blade”

19858251Book: “Upon the Ashen Blade” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Demons and gods, revenge and lies, and still the dragon moves slowly north. Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith now have the tools that could end the destruction, but a vast army lies between them and victory, and time is running out. The race is on to stop Y’Ruen before all of Ede is under her flame.

Review: We’ve arrived at the the fourth and final novella that makes up “The Copper Promise” and our heroes have a lot to do. Wydrin: save her brother’s life. Sebastian: figure himself out and deal with the pesky little demon he’s sold his soul to. Frith: complete his journey to not being an unlikable, arrogant, ass while escaping a crow god. All: deal with the dragon bent on destroying the world with her fire and brood army. So, you know, a reasonable task for about 110 pages of story!

As mentioned in the last review, we were left on cliffhangers in all three stories. But not to fear, these were wrapped up fairly quickly at the beginning of this. So, too, our merry band were speedily re-united. While I enjoyed the three separate storylines for each that we got in the last book (a bit to my surprise!), I was very happy to have our heroes back together. It has become more and more clear that Wydrin is who has been holding things together for her and Sebastian for the last few years. Not only does he make very bad decisions without her (as we saw last time), but the guy is just too serious for his own good and has some major self-esteem issues to work through. Wydrin’s sense of humor, and sense of support, were badly needed by both him and Frith.

Frith’s cliffhanger was solved a bit too easily for my taste, but, due to the page count and long list of tasks mentioned above, this wasn’t all that surprising. It did lead to another mini adventure for the group that I very much enjoyed. The settings and magic systems that these novellas use have a very “classic high fantasy” feel to them that is refreshing in this day and age. All too often, fantasy now reads very dark, grim, and full of anti-heroes and political maneuvering.

giphy2
Yes, yes, but sometimes can’t we just have fantasy fun?? (source)

I particularly enjoyed the pieces of this story that came together through connections to the previous three novellas. The added chapter perspectives from the point of view of the members of the brood army paid off in a great way, particularly in bits where there were clever nudges to the reader that weren’t picked up on by our unknowing heroes. And Frith’s backstory was resolved in a satisfactory manner. I wasn’t quite sure where the author was going with this for a while, as the storyline seemed sprinkled in amidst the larger plot conflict of the dragon in strange ways at times.

I really only have two complaints. The first is completely unsurprising and expected: this section was too short to do justice to the many dangling storylines left to be wrapped up. Especially, I would have liked more time with Sebastian and the brood army since the relationship between the two was built up quite a lot in the second and third story. My second complaint has to do with a portion of Wydrin’s story that I felt was ultimately taking up page time that could have been used elsewhere (in the aforementioned Sebastian/brood army bits, or in the epic battle at the end, or simply in giving more time to the evolving relationship between Wydrin and Frith). Really, there were plenty of places that could have used the page time, and I had largely forgotten about this antagonist already. There were elements here that tied into the resolution of the entire story, but I wish there had been a way to deal with this in a manner that didn’t take up as much time. Or maybe just make the whole section longer, and I wouldn’t have cared as much about the pages devoted to this section if they had no impact on the other story components.

Struggles with the limited page time allotted to ending this novella series aside, I very much enjoyed this last entry in the series. I would guess that to read this oneself, you are most likely to come across “The Copper Cat” edition that includes all four novellas. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m not sure how successful this story would be if approached as a traditional fantasy novel in one pieces. The pacing would be strange throughout the entire book, and the changes in storytelling would be very jarring (having the brood army chapters in there for 100 pages without any explanation and then suddenly disappearing, then having another 100 page section told with the three different plots lines, etc). I think the author/publisher would have done themselves a favor if it had been marketed more clearly as a compilation of four novellas. As it stands, without doing extra research and discovering this for oneself, many readers could be left with a bad taste in their mouth simply due to these pacing challenges. It’s really too bad. A simple note on the cover along with marked section titles would have done the trick. But, especially if one goes in knowing this to begin with, I would highly recommend this to readers who enjoy more traditional, slightly campy fantasy adventure stories.

Rating 8: A good ending, though too short to fully do the many plot points justice.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Upon the Ashen Blade” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but the compilation “The Copper Promise” is on this list “Books You Wish More People Knew About.”

Find “Upon the Ashen Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:Ghosts of the Citadel” and “Children of Fog” and “Prince of Wounds”

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”

25570825Book: “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin” by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Image Comics, October 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life. In light of recent revelations, he finally feels like he’s starting to piece together the answers he’s looking for. But while he feels a new sense of purpose… is Reverend Anderson’s life falling apart?

Review: In the last collection of “Outcast”, it was pretty clear that the first few comics in this series were laying the groundwork for everything that was going to come after. I was willing to be patient for Volume 1, but I hoped that Volume 2 we’d start seeing more than a brooding Kyle, an earnest and somewhat zealous Anderson, and those around them. I’m pleased to say that “A Vast and Unending Ruin” definitely put it’s characters into the thick of it’s first story arc. The set up is done and we are seeing how it’s all fitting together! Which is a good thing, because I’ll be honest, it was getting a little tiresome to have so much set up in Volume 1 without seeing that much payoff.

One of the biggest developments in “A Vast and Unending Ruin” is that while Kyle and Anderson are definitely on the same side in this battle between themselves and the demons that are possessing those around them, it’s made very clear that they have very different opinions of how to handle and proceed. While Anderson is thinking in the terms of good vs evil and God vs Satan, Kyle isn’t totally convinced that it’s as clear cut as that. Anderson thinks that any of the consequences are going to be positive so long as the person they are trying to help is freed from the demonic grasp, a narrative that is very prevalent in your typical demonic possession story. While there are some vessels that do end up okay in the end (a la Regan McNeil in “The Exorcist”), there are others who do not (a la Emily Rose in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). While sometimes these stories would make you think that so long as they are no longer possessed, everything is okay, because they are now being welcomed into heaven and their soul is saved. But Kyle doesn’t buy that, as he has seen those who haven’t turned out okay, like his mother. It’s easy for Anderson to say that all is well, but Kyle’s mother has been in a catatonic state for years now. So how can he agree with that? This conflict between the two main protagonists is going to be interesting as time goes on, especially since Kyle isn’t totally convinced that this is just a Biblical kind of situation. It’s an interesting theme to tackle, and hopefully it’s sustainable for awhile, at least until the next big conflict comes.

I also think that it’s important to talk about the women’s roles in this one since I touched on it the review of Volume 1. I’m happy to say that there was some expansion when it came to the lady characters in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, as we finally got to see Allison interact with Kyle in person, not just with him calling and hanging up. Allison is torn, as she still loves her ex husband, but believes that he attacked their daughter, Amber, and nearly killed her. The ultimate tragedy of this whole situation is that it was actually Allison who attacked Amber while in a state of possession. Kyle took the fall for this, as his whole life demons have been hurting those he loves most, and the only way to keep Allison and Amber safe is to keep them away from him. This interaction gave Allison more depth, as she is neither the wife who is all forgiving, nor it she portrayed as a shrew or a bitch. I felt that her conflict of emotions, fear for their daughter and anger at Kyle versus her emotions for him that linger, made perfect sense based on what she believes to be true. I knew it would be hard to portray that conflict she’s facing, but Kirkman did a very good job writing it. We also got to see a bit more with Mildred and her connection to Sidney (who continues to be fairly mysterious, though we are starting to see some of his motivations), which just raises more questions. But the person that I’m most concerned about, character wise, is Megan, Kyle’s sister. Remember how I said that she didn’t seem like someone who needed to be rescued, despite her back story? Welllllll, I take that back now, given one of the plot points that happened in this collection (no spoilers here, though I’ll probably HAVE to talk about it come Volume 3, so keep that in mind). I’m one of those people who definitely takes issue with women being used as tools to make male characters upset or hurt or vengeful, and I’m really worried that Megan is going to be the second female in this story (along with Kyle’s mother) to fall victim to something terrible in order to make him more brooding and sad. But, we aren’t there yet! So there’s still hope it doesn’t go in this direction…

So overall, I am still enjoying “Outcast” with Volume 2, as it has started to expand on it’s story and we’re seeing the first bits of conflict beyond just exposition. There are still lots of questions to be answered, but it feels like we’re on the track to discovering at least part of what is going on. I’ll be going on to Volume 3 in the nearish future!

Rating 8: The story is finally progressing a bit faster, and we’re getting some more well thought out character development. I have issues with how Megan’s character may be going, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin” isn’t on many Goodreads lists that match the themes, so like I said before, if you like “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, this is similar.

Find “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”.