Kate’s Review: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

20821614Book: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler books, September 2014

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

Review: When I first picked this book up, I had an ‘uh oh’ moment. Having read “Perfect Days” fairly recently, I was worried that “You” was going to be so similar to that one that I wouldn’t be able to give it a fair shake. And on paper, they definitely sound like the same book; it’s from the perspective of an obsessed, sociopathic guy who is stalking an effervescent and flaky artist-type girl. But I am happy to report that the similarities end there, as while “Perfect Days” goes right into the kidnapping and torturing consequence of that, “You” is more about the stalking.

I’m not selling this book to a good chunk of people with my description, and that’s fine, because if you have a problem with reading a book that’s about themes like this, “You” isn’t for you.

One of the most striking things about “You” is that it is told in a strange first and second person perspective. Joe is the narrator, talking about his experience, but it’s as if he’s telling the story to Beck, the object of his obsession, and is addressing the reader as if he or she is Beck. So it’s always “You are”, or “You didn’t”, etcetera etcetera. I was worried that it was going to be awkward at best and unreadable at worst, but it actually worked very, very well.

This is going to sound strange, but I liked reading it from Joe’s perspective, mainly because I liked that we got to see just how disgustingly weird and threatening he is. Kepnes makes it very clear right out of the gate that this guy is a predator, and worse still he’s a predator who doesn’t know that he is one. In his mind he’s just a nice guy who has fallen in love with the perfect woman, and he will stop at nothing to be with her. I also appreciated that while Kepnes was definitely pointing out the mistakes that Beck made (after losing her phone she didn’t deactivate it, she has no security settings on her social media and talks about her life in full, among other things), at no point do you feel like she is being blamed for any of the under the surface victimization that is happening to her. It did, however, make me double check my privacy settings on my accounts and confirm that all of my devices are locked. It was very unnerving to watch how Joe tracked and stalked Beck, all the while inserting himself into her life and romancing her as well. You could see how, without seeing the dark and insidious side to how this relationship began, Beck would find him utterly charming, and also underestimate him. Scary, scary stuff.

While this book was mostly engrossing and totally thrilling, there were a couple of things that did come off as unrealistic, so unrealistic that I had trouble suspending my disbelief. My main beef is that Joe starts to go see Beck’s therapist, Dr. Nicki. Joe gives himself a fake name to do this, and as someone who has been in therapy before, I’m pretty sure that it’s not that easy to do that and get treatment. You’d think there’d be questions about health insurance, checking accounts, or why a person would be paying with flat out cash if the first two issues are to be circumnavigated. None of this, however, is ever addressed, and for whatever reason it just irritated me. Everything else was so meticulous when it came to how Joe achieves what he does, and this seemed more ‘because I said it worked’ than actually feasible. Which was too bad, because until then everything had be saying ‘yes of course this is how it would happen tell me more’.

Nit picking aside, I really enjoyed “You”, and I think that those thriller fans who think they can handle it ought to try it out. It had me in suspense and tied up in knots up until the end. It takes a lot of guts to tell a story from the perspective of a predatory character and make that character easy to read and interesting to read. I can’t say that I ‘liked’ Joe, per se, but I enjoyed experiencing his darkness. Make no mistake, he is pure darkness, but it’s a creepily entertaining darkness.

And, there is a sequel called “Hidden Bodies” that is currently on my nightstand, just waiting for me to start it. I’m not quite ready, but I know that I will be soon. I’m coming back for you, Joe Goldberg, you creepy and awful sonnuvabitch.

Rating 8: Incredibly dark and incredibly screwed up with a very strong voice and a very voyeuristic feel to it. I just wish that a few of the less realistic aspects hadn’t taken me out of the moment.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You” is included on in these Goodreads lists: “Dark and Deep Books”, and “Most Messed Up”.

Find “You” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol 2): Depths”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol 2): Depths” by Gail Simone, Nicolla Scott (Ill.), Carlos Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When Batman’s cowl winds up for grabs after his death in FINAL CRISIS, two members of the Secret Six think they have what it takes to be the new Dark Knight. But will Robin put up with the unruly team in his hometown? And where have all the forgotten heroes and villains of the DC Universe been? The Six are blackmailed by someone claiming to be their old boss, Mockingbird, into a brand-new mission taking them into the heart of the metahuman slave trade! And Artemis, the former Wonder Woman, returns in the most brutal Secret Six story yet!

Review: As much as I do love a good dark and twisted story, I am also quite the fan of fluffy, goofy, one off side stories that round out my favorite characters. That’s the reason that I do find myself reading comics skewed towards younger readers, such as “Li’l Gotham” and “Itty Bitty Hellboy”. I am usually very excited when the adult comics I read go in a more light hearted direction, and I was very happily surprised when Secret Six even got in on this action, at least a little bit, in “Depths”. I will talk about the main, progressing plot line first. But know that there is more. So much more.

In the progressing story, The Secret Six has been given a new assignment by someone who is claiming to be their old boss, Mockingbird, and it leads them to Devil’s Island, where a man named Mr. Smyth hopes to build the world’s largest, and only prison. This concept let the Six explore the idea of prisons, and who we put in them. It never felt preachy, and I really enjoyed the way that it was presented. The best part about this plot progressing story line was that we got an appearance from the HBIC herself, Wonder Woman! I literally screeched when my precious Diana Prince arrived on the scene, and though I didn’t really care for some of the twists and turns in this arc, Wonder Woman’s presence made up for it. As did the expansion of Jeanette’s role. We finally got to see her in full on banshee mode. I had been waiting so long for that. I will definitely admit that I am starting to get a little frustrated with how these team members find ways to betray each other, and I’m starting to fear that this is just going to be par for the course. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet here we are.

But I mentioned a diversion story line at the beginning of this. Before we got into the dark and gritty (and of course sarcastic) story of Devil’s Island, we got two fun side stories featuring the Six and their shenanigans. There is the response comic (I have to think?) to Batman’s Death in Final Crisis, in which Bane, Catman, and Ragdoll take a night to do some good in honor of the fallen Bat. Watching these guys saving children from kidnappers all over Gotham was super cute, especially since Ragdoll was wearing a Robin outfit and none of them really knew how to function as heroes, though their efforts were so sweet and well meaning.

AND THEN there is the double date story.

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You read that right. 

Deadshot and Jeanette go on a date with Scandal and Liana. Who’s Liana? Liana is the exotic dancer that the Six hired for Scandal when she was mourning Knockout’s death in the first volume. She’s back, and she’s such a darling and lovely character that I can’t help but love her. While at first I was a bit worried that Scandal’s relationship with her was going to be weird and macabre (given how much she looks like Knockout), she adds a lovely bit of balance to a group of ne’er-do-wells with her non cynical outlook on life.This entire story may have felt a bit like fanfiction on paper, but it worked because the characters were so true to themselves. I really wish that there were more stories like this in The Secret Six series. They are truly at their best and brightest when they are being a ridiculous and dysfunctional group of friends. I would read this series if it was just a humorous group of regular people having to share a loft, because the characters do work that well outside of being super villains.

I definitely want more. These characters remain incredibly charming and likable, and I hope that they stay that way. If only all comic characters could be written with such wit and complexities.

Rating 8: Great to see Amazons like Diana and Artemis, and cute side storylines that are very amusing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol. 2): Depths” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels” and “Swancon 2013 Reading List”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol. 2): Depths” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”, “Unhinged”.

Book Club Review: “The Outsiders”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. 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 “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

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! 

Book: “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

Publishing Info: Viking Press, April 1967

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it, Serena got hers from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

Kate’s Thoughts:

It was my turn to pick the book for book club, and I knew right away that I wanted to to “The Outsiders”. Unlike a lot of middle or high schoolers in this country, I did not initially read this book when I was a teenager. When I turned eleven or twelve I made the transition to reading adult novels as opposed to those for the teenage set. My sister, however, had a copy, and I knew that she liked it. So I first read “The Outsiders” when I was in graduate school in my Young Adult Literature and Services class. So I wasn’t exactly at the right age demographic when I read it, but I loved it. A whole, whole lot.

Reading it again did not diminish my love for this book. I think that while it takes place in the 1960s, the themes of isolation, teen rivalry, violence, abuse, and loss are timeless and can still be applied today. It may be a fight between the poor greasers and the rich socs, but it could be any group at odds within a teenage community. S.E. Hinton wrote this book when she was a fifteen year old herself, and so Ponyboy’s voice is very authentic and rings very true. What amazes me is that this was written by a fifteen year old, as it definitely seems like it has a feel for these issues from that of one much wiser. Hinton wrote better than I ever did at age fifteen, I can tell you that much.

I also love how so many of the characters have fully realized personalities. To me the most fascinating and complicated characters are Darry, Ponyboy’s older brother, and Dallas (aka Dally), the head greaser in Ponyboy’s group. Darry is portrayed to a T as a boy who had to grow up too fast and raise his younger siblings when their parents died. I love how Darry’s frustrations come out, but so does his love, and while I’m sure as a teenager I would have been critical of Darry and how he reacts and relates to Ponyboy, as an adult I just want to sweet him up and give him a hug. And then there’s Dallas, the character with the biggest mouth, the worst attitude, and the most tragic core. I love that Dally has his awful and mean moments, but you know that he loves his friends, specifically the doomed Johnny, and has little to live for outside of them.

And finally, the theme of growing up, sometimes too fast, carries a lot of weight in this book. Johnny does so when he accidentally kills Bob the Soc. This strikes a sharp contrast to Ponyboy, who wants to grow up as fast as he can, and those around him, specifically Johnny and Darry, want him to cling to his childhood. To ‘stay gold’. The difference between Ponyboy and the other Outsiders is that he has that familial support in both his brothers Sodapop and Darry. Even if their family is hurting and broken, they still love each other, which ultimately, I think, saves Ponyboy from himself.

No it isn’t perfect. There aren’t many girl characters, and only one, Cherry, has any development to her character. And the scene with the church fire always seemed pretty over the top to me, though the consequences of it never feel melodramatic. Sometimes Ponyboy’s voice was grating, and while I know that he’s supposed to be a naive teenage boy it was a little hard to deal with how not self aware he was. But overall, these are quibbles.

Gosh. I love this book. Imperfect as it may be in some ways, I still love it.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Can I just write “what Kate said” and leave it at that?

Well, I guess I have a different story of when I first read it. Not much of a story, actually, but it was an assigned book in my highschool English class. Which meant I was forced to hate it initially. In reality, I didn’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t a book that I listed on any favorite lists. Honestly, looking back, I barely remembered anything from this book, so re-reading it for bookclub was a lot like reading it for the first time.

In all seriousness, really, what Kate said. I had similar feelings about a lot of the characters, specifically my love for Darry. As an older sibling, I think I naturally gravitated towards him. I don’t remember having any teenage angst towards him as cramping on Ponyboy’s style when I read it the first time, but I probably did. But as an adult, I just want to cry and rock him. (I only just now looked up at Kate’s review and saw that she said she wanted to hug him. We have the same mind!)

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As a literature major, I also enjoyed the heck out of the literary discussions in this. I had forgotten how many there were, between “Gone with the Wind” and the obvious “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I can see why they used this in my English class! Sneaky, sneaky. If we read this, maybe we’ll read those!

But it’s clear where the success of this book lies: the honest portrayal of life as a group of teenage boys. It’s amazing that a 16 year old young woman wrote this. The beauty, pain, growth, limitations, every aspect of what it would be like as a young man growing up in this situation seems to be touched upon. And with such frank honesty. There is no trying to hard. There is no morality story for the sake of a morality story. It simply is. And what it is is amazing. This book should be highlighted whenever people start falling down the rabbit hole for why it may be too challenging for a male author to write from a woman’s perspective or vice versa.

A few weaknesses for me: as a narrator, at times, Ponyboy could come off in a way that was off putting. But, this could be as much another example of an honest portrayal of teenagedom as anything else. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the bookended beginning and end of the story. This could also be something that I’m less tolerant of for having seen it done one too many times. At the time this book was published originally, I imagine I would have felt differently.

All in all, however, I really enjoyed “The Outsiders” and am glad that Kate forced to re-evaluate my rebellious teenage opinion.

Kate’s Rating 9: This book stands the test of time with its relatable characters and themes. It may not be perfect, but it’s imperfections are dwarfed by it’s merits.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very enjoyable and still a strong recommendation for teenagers and adults alike!

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of “The Outsiders”. The cast in this movie is fabulous, with youngster versions of Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, and Matt Dillon. And a not as young as the rest version of Patrick Swayze, who was, by book club consensus, the most attractive of all the Outsiders.

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I mean, really. (source)

The adaptation is a pretty faithful one, though the original theatrical release left out a lot of stuff that happens with Darry and Sodapop. Luckily, there is a director’s cut version called “The Outsiders: The Complete Novel” that adds all of this back in.

1. Who is your favorite Outsider? What is it about them that makes them your favorite?

2. What do you think of how this book is framed (as an essay Ponyboy is writing)? Does this work for you as a reader?

3. How do you feel about Darry as a character? What do you think of how he handles Ponyboy?

4. What did you think of Cherry and the other Socs? What function does Cherry serve in this book?

5. “The Outsiders” came out in 1967 and is seen as one of the first YA novels. Do you think that it holds up for a modern audience? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Outsiders” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Young Adult Realistic Novels”, and “Best Coming of Age Stories”.

Find “The Outsiders” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Emperor’s Blades”

The Emperor's Blades

Book: “The Emperor’s Blades” by Brian Staveley

Publishing Info: Tor, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

Review: It’s just a fact that a lot of high fantasy novel descriptions start sounding all the same over time. If you’ve read a lot of the genre, you immediately recognize staples in these summaries. Ruler’s death. Fight for the throne. Assassins. Mysterious religious/mystical figures. A forgotten past. And this isn’t a gripe about lack of creativity. If you pick up a horror novel or a science fiction novel, there will be a similar case with each. It’s just the nature of genre storytelling. If a reader loves a specific genre, chances are good that what they really love are these specific features common to that type of story. But there is a balancing act to be found between crafting these typical elements to support new and interesting characters and support creative world building and using them as a crutch. More and more, I am wary of the latter. So when I read the description for this book, I kind of sighed and thought, well, here we go! But not only was I wrong; I was so, so wrong. This is Brian Staveley’s first book, but “The Emperor’s Blades” reads like it is already a fantasy classic.

The narrative is split between the lately deceased Emperor’s three children: the youngest and heir to the throne, Kaden, the oldest child and only daughter, Adare, and the middle son, Valyn. So, from the get go, Staveley sets himself up with a challenge. Three perspectives ranging in age, gender, and life experience is no easy task. Often I find myself strongly gravitating towards one narrative and wishing to flip quickly through the rest. And while I feel like I could rank the three stories in an order of preference, I truly did enjoy them all. If anything, a large part of my complaint has to do with unequal distribution. I wanted more from each character!

Specifically, I wanted more from Adare. Sadly, Adare only has a handful of chapters in this book which I felt did her story a disservice. The author is clearly attempting to set up these three storylines as parallel journeys  with each character taking a unique path and answering different questions in the mystery of what happened to their father, the Emperor, and what political mechanisms are in play in the Empire. And Adare is the politician, the daughter who has grown up in the capital city, learning at her father’s knee from birth. But she is not the heir, and after her father’s death, she discovers he has placed her in a political role not typically held by women. Struggling to find allies and unravel the truth behind her father’s cryptic messages, Adare’s story seems central to the larger tale being started with this book. Not only is her position so clearly important, but her practical, no-nonsense approach and savvy political mind were fascinating to read about. A few chapters weren’t enough!

Kaden’s story, on the other hand, is the slow burn in an otherwise fast-moving story. As customary for the heir in the Empire, he has spent the majority of his life being raised far away from the capital by a holy order of monks. This was a fascinating swap in typical fantasy tropes. Kaden spends a large part of his narrative discussing the peaceful, meditative practices that he has spent the last several years learning. Not only was I (a fantasy reader used to hearing all about a typical princelings learning fighting and politics in the middle of court drama) confused by Kaden’s segregation from his family and kingdom, but Kaden himself struggled to understand the value of his tutelage. This storyline was initially a bit slow for me. Kaden is the most cut off from the mayhem that comes from his father’s death, and as a character, he is drawn as a thoughtful, careful person. But while it might have taken a bit for me to become fully invested in his story, there was a big pay off in the end, and I am excited to see where Kaden goes next.

By far, the character with the most page-time and the most to do was the youngest son, Valyn. Valyn, too, has been growing up disconnected from his family and home. From a young age, he’s been training to be a member of the Empire’s most elite fighting force, a group of warriors whose primary skill set revolves around their ability to fly huge falcons. I mean, right there, you know this guy’s going to be fun. Valyn, also, is the first character to begin fully realizing the extent of the problems going on in the Empire following his father’s death which leads to a lot of exciting action. He also is surrounded by the most interesting tertiary characters. The other trainees provide for a very diverse look at the other people living in the Empire. The female members of his group also did a good job of making me feel slightly less disappointed in the small number of chapters that Adare was relegated. Valyn is probably the most typical character, as far as high fantasy goes. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. Like I said, genre readers like what they like. And by sandwiching his story in between Adare and Kaden, two far less typical high fantasy characters, Valyn’s familiarity works as a good balance point.

“The Emperor’s Blades” is the first in a trilogy, and it definitely reads like one. Major cliffhanger warnings! But luckily, the second book came out a while ago, and the third was just published this month. I’ll be diving into those immediately.

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Rating 8: Loved it. Wished there was more Adare, but I’ll by jumping right into the sequels, so hopefully I’ll find it there!

Reader’s Advisory: 

Getting on a bit of a soapbox here: I went to look up lists on Goodreads for this book and found not only one, but two lists that were titled something like “Best Fantasy Books for Guys.” There might have been even more, but after the first page included two of these lists, I stopped looking. Here is a pretty generic list that it’s on “Best New Fantasy Novel” and here are two articles worth checking out about gender and reading. Elaine Cunningham briefly discusses epic fantasy and the misconception of them as “boy’s books” here and Caroline Paul writes about how boys should read “girl’s books” here. Both really get to my main point: there is no such thing as “boy’s books” or “girl’s books.” People who like high fantasy will like “The Emperor’s Blades.”

Find “The Emperor’s Blades” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Fifth House of the Heart”

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Book: “The Fifth House of the Heart” by Ben Tripp

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, July 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.

But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.

From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.

Review: If there is one thing that you need to know about me when it comes to my love of horror, it’s that I am supremely picky about my vampire fiction. I love vampire lore, and have always enjoyed a vampire tale if it is done right. What do I personally define as ‘right’ when it comes to vampires in my pop culture? Oh, let me tell you.

  1. The Lost Boys
  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  3. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
  4. Martin
  5. Dracula
  6. The Hunger
  7. Lestat as a whole

And of course….

8. What We Do In The Shadows

What don’t I define as right?

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I will beat this dead horse forever. (source)

I am happy to report that “The Fifth House of the Heart” is going to be able to be used as one of my personal good examples of what I look for in vampire fiction. I will admit that I had to sort of have a jump start as I was reading, because I found myself skimming more than I wanted to and not appreciating the writing. So I jumped back about a hundred pages, and really delved deep into the narrative.

The vampire world and mythology that Tripp has created is a familiar one, but he puts his own spin on his vampires and his vampire hunters. While vampires have generally the usual characteristics and tropes that has become a part of the collective narrative, Tripp adds things and twists things to make them unique to his world. For example, in this world, vampires take on the form of their prey over time, so there are encounters with vampires that look like giant spiders and malicious frogs. He also gives a lot of time to theories on metallurgy and chemistry in relation to vampire weaknesses, giving garlic some potency through means of scientific explanation and silver weapons enhanced by blacksmithing. I really enjoyed that Tripp gave such deep thought to his story that he made stalwart themes completely new and creative. I also really enjoyed our rag-tag group of vampire hunters, as they felt like they were coming right out of an “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque heist movie. Sax is a very fun protagonist, because he’s by no means a brave man. Hell, he kills vampires because he wants their antiques for his collection, and doesn’t get his hands dirty unless he absolutely has to. And even then he really doesn’t want to out of sheer cowardice. But in spite of that you can’t help but really like him and root for him. His team consists of a paramilitary badass, a sociopathic assassin who has a tragic link to vampires in her past, an obnoxious burglar type, and a blacksmith and metal specialist who is far more interested in banging women than hunting vampires. Not to mention the Bollywood actress who is suffering from a vampire bite. It is seriously charming!

Tripp’s writing is also something that gels with me completely, as I found it laugh out loud funny, but also really scary at times. There were many scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, and his descriptions are vivid and evocative. I could picture everything so easily, and the change of place never felt awkward or choppy. There are a few flashbacks in telling Sax’s story, but they were always clear cut and put in at just the right times. And the shifts from really funny scenes to scenes that had me on the edge of my seat were never jarring, as the comedic elements were just a part of the characters and always felt like they were in place, no matter how tense the situation was. And his descriptions of gore and vampire things of that nature were just the right amount of brutal without making me squeamish. Granted, my threshold for that stuff is pretty high, but it never felt supremely exploitative or graphic to me.

Vampire fans really need to try out “The Fifth House of the Heart”. It was a true joy to read it, and I think that it should take it’s rightful place of honor in modern vampire fiction.

Rating 8: A solid vampire mythology with some really fun characters. The mix of humor and horror really gives in a bite and the creatures Tripp has created are fabulous.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Fifth House of the Heart” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Picks: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror Novels of 2015”, and “Hugo 2016 Eligible Works”.

Find “The Fifth House of the Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Shadoweyes (Vol.1)”

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Book: “Shadoweyes” by Sophie Campbell

Publishing Info: SLG Publishing, August 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Find “Shadoweyes” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Morning Star”

Morning StarBook: “Morning Star” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, February 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

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

Finally, the time has come.

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

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

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

happy win excited star trek yes
Yes! Nailed it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Find “Morning Star” at your library using WorldCat!