Serena’s Review: “Dry”

38355098Book: “Dry” by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss Plus

Book Description: The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbours and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Review: Important first note: I literally just now, starting to write this review, figured out what that cover design was. It’s a water drop being eaten up by flames from below. For the life of me I couldn’t figure it out the entire time I was reading the book, only seeing the blue portion and being like “…is it…a feather?? What does that have to do with this topic?”

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(source)

Living in southern California, Alyssa and her family have been hearing about the water shortage for a while now. But like any other news that is told too often, they have quietly gone about their lives not expecting any big changes. Sure, they’d water the lawn less and swimming pools have been banned, but life goes on. Until one day the water turns off. Completely. And in a very short period of time Alyssa comes to realize just how fragile her life and community has been. With the lack of this one crucial resource, chaos and danger quickly descend and she finds herself fighting for her life alongside her brother and a random assortment of other teenagers: the son of the prepper family next door, a teenage girl who has been living by her own laws for years, and a teenage boy with a gift for gab and his own shading dealings. Who can she trust and more importantly, where can they go if they want to survive?

Teaming up with his son, Shusterman once again proves why he is a master of dystopia fiction. What makes this book special is how very real it feels. While “Scythe” looks at a completely foreign society, there are still enough aspects of humanity to imagine this as a very true future. “Dry,” instead, feels as if it could happen tomorrow and that makes it all the more terrifying. Not only is the threat one that we can understand, but it is one that already feels like it is on our door, at least to some extent. But both “Scythe” and “Dry” rely on the very honest and true portrayals of how humanity operates in crisis. In this book, we see how very quickly “society” can devolve and makes the world we live in feel as if it is simply balancing on a very thin knife’s edge. Reacting on spectrums, we see all the extremes in reactions to how a crisis like this might play out. But what makes it all the more disturbing is the transformation of regular people into survivors who will quickly cross moral boundaries to horrific results.

I particularly the way this novel was lain out, with points of view from not only Alyssa but the other teenagers in her group. And between these sections we also saw glimpses into small moments throughout the city as people respond to this crisis. One woman’s time trapped on a freeway. A reporter who finds a way to twist the situation to her benefit. A factory manager who quickly find himself at the center of a mob. Each serves as harsh reminders of the plethora of dangers that immediately show up in a situation like this and how crucial every decision has to the one’s own survival.

Beyond these glimpses, each of the teenage characters were interesting to follow. And what made them all the better as narrators was that there was no assumption that they were all “heroic” as readers often expect from our point of view characters. Instead, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and, more importantly, their own priorities that can often run in conflict with other members of the group. While Alyssa does feel like the “main” character, I found myself much more invested in the story of her neighbor who is the son of a family of preppers. His arc felt the most fully-realized of the group. Alyssa, on the other hand, was probably one of least favorite. While she presents an important point-of-view, being the most optimistic and moral of the group, she also had an early tendency to make very bone-headed decisions when all the evidence was already against her. She had already seen the depths to which humanity had sunk and was still taking dumb risks with the idea that these same people would somehow react differently. It made her read as naive and a bit silly at times.

But the strength of this story really lies with its plotting and descriptions of the horrors brought about by an event like this. Unlike many other disaster/post-apocalyptic stories, there is no major BOOM that sets things off. Instead, it is something much more insidious and quiet. We also see how this lack of “boom” surrounding a situation like this would play against it, with too many people not treating it with the seriousness it deserves. There is a clear commentary on global warning that can be drawn from this, but both Shustermans are careful to not beat readers over the head with it too much. Instead, the discomforting “realness” of the situation does all the work for them on this point.

This story was gripping and impossible to put down. I was frantically turning pages with a feeling of growing dread. And by the last page, while this story was completed (it’s a standalone work), I was left thinking about it and, let’s be honest, mentally prepping for days. I highly recommend this for fans of post-apocalyptic stories and Shusterman’s writing in particular.

Rating 9: A horrifyingly real-feeling story about the collapse of humanity in crisis situations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dry” is a newer title so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Natural Disaster Fiction.”

Find “The Dead Zone” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Hunger”

30285766Book: “The Hunger” by Alma Katsu

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.

While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”

Review: Back in college I took a super awesome Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature course called Monsters, Robots, and Cyborgs. In this class we would read horror and science fiction books and texts and then put them in the context of the time period and place that they were written. When we were focusing on stories about zombies and “Night of the Living Dead”, or historical comparison was that of The Donner Party. Having had a fascination with The Donner Party since grade school. My first encounter with it was a particular Far Side comic that my mother had to explain to me….

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And it still makes me laugh. (source)

The next encounter was a TV movie called “One More Mountain”, which starred Meredith Baxter as Margaret Reed, one of the survivors of the whole ordeal. From then on I was hooked. So  back to college: I remember going to that class the day we were learning about it with a whole lot of food to share with my classmates (and trying to troll my professor, who was my very favorite and was very tolerant of my edgy, and no doubt obnoxious, sense of humor). Had that class been taught today, I think that Alma Katsu’s “The Hunger” would be the perfect text for the syllabus. Not only does it cover some very solid ground within what actually happened to that tragic wagon train, it adds a whole new element of horror and suspense by throwing in a supernatural twist.

It should be noted first and foremost that Katsu did some extensive research to write this book, even going so far as to retracing the route the Donner Party took as best she could (as the road by car doesn’t take the exact path). So she knows what she is talking about when it comes to the ultimate fates and broad stroked experiences of the people within the group. Because of this, even had there not been a supernatural element, “The Hunger” is gripping, visceral, and feels very, very real. While she may take some liberties here and there to make some of the players more vibrant (and she addresses some of this within her author’s notes), the characters are very relatable to the modern reader, many of them experiencing problems and hardships that many people still face today. Just goes to show that some things like abuse, misogyny, racism, and Othering are timeless, sadly. The details that Katsu put into this book, from the cast of players to the setting itself, were meticulous, and I was sucked into the story easily and felt like I could clearly see everyone and the settings that they found themselves as they moved west. I could picture the prairie, the mountains, and all the problems of the environment that they came to face, especially when the snow began to fall. Along with a traditional narrative, the story is also slowly unfolded through flashbacks at the end of each chapter (usually focusing on a certain character), and then letters that are written mostly by Edwin Bryant, who had gone off ahead of the Party and has possibly discovered some dark realities. The way all of these pieces come together is deeply satisfying, and Kutsu is skilled at making sure they weave together in precise ways.

The unique part of this book that really grabbed me was the horror element. We don’t really know WHAT it is that is plaguing the Donner Party as they make their way, as Katsu is sure to be vague outside of the reveal as to what the origin is (but that would be a spoiler, so I won’t go into details beyond that). But that is part of the horror in and of itself. I loved the descriptions of figures moving in the woods, and the descriptions of the body horror that some of the members start to experience. Katsu derives the supernatural element from many different sources, from folklores from around the world, to superstitions, to implications about illness and madness. What we do know is that something is following The Donner Party as it goes up into the mountains, and that it’s wreaking havoc, sometimes unknowingly. And Katsu does play with some unreliable elements to the story: is this force doing the most damage, or are the people doing far more damage to themselves because of madness, greed, and desperation? What if the absolute and worst horrors in this book are the violent and merciless people, especially once they are driven into a corner.

But there is a whole other kind of horror in this book, and that horror is the truth of what happened to The Donner Party. It isn’t just the fact that the wilderness is dangerous, especially in high stakes situations, but the actual fate of this wagon train is frightening even without the supernatural element. This group took a bad trail based on bad information, hubris, and the entitlement of Manifest Destiny, and therein ended up stranded in the mountain wilderness during winter. Then, when they started to succumb to exposure, cannibalism became the only option for some to survive. That is unsettling without the help of outside forces. I remember being unsettled during that class back in college as I realized that I no longer had the appetite for the food I so gleefully brought with me. And Katsu captures it perfectly, because even though you know what is going to happen, you still dread it.

“The Hunger” is a superb horror novel that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. If you are feeling extra daring, save it for a cold winter night, perhaps when it is snowing outside and you might be able to see strange shadows in the trees…

Rating 9: A tense and detailed historical fiction/horror novel, “The Hunger” brings a creepy twist to the already creepy true story of the Donner Party.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hunger” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Wilderness Horror Stories”, and “Horror Novels Set (Largely) in Winter/Snow”.

Find “The Hunger” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “Lethal White”

40774524This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we review the recently released “Lethal White.”

Book: “Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

Serena’s Thoughts

I pre-ordered this book the second I saw that that was even an option. As much as I love the library, I’ve done my time on miles-long holds lists for popular titles, so for this one I said, NOT TODAY! And then the second it arrived on my doorstep, I informed my husband that I was going to take a bath (while reading) and then make dinner (while reading) and then sit on the couch the rest of the night (reading). No surprise, but he found other things to do that evening. And then I sped through this book in only a matter of days (which says something, since, like the Harry Potter series, book four came with a massive jump in word count.)

This book starts out with a time jump. After briefly touching on the events of the cliffhanger left in book three, we find ourselves one year later following Robin and Stirke as they go about their business. Largely disconnected from each other. Business is booming, however, so each are busy with cases. But all of these come to a stop when Strike is visited by a strange young man reporting a crime that took place long ago. From their, the mystery quickly spirals out to include a group of wealthy elitists and the political fields on which they now operate.

Here the mystery gives us a bit of a break from the darker tones seen in both the second and, even more so, the third book. But with this change comes the most complicated mystery and expansive list of players we’ve seen yet. Galbraith takes full advantage of the extended wordcount to introduce an intricate web of characters who all criss-cross with each other throughout lives full of dark corners and hidden secrets that none want to reveal to our two detectives. What’s more, the initial mystery that is given, that of a child’s potential murder years ago, is quickly padded out with several other mysteries, including even a new death that takes place in the present. I had no chance whatsoever to put all of these pieces together, so about halfway through the story I just gave up trying and let myself enjoy the ride.

Robin and Strike’s relationship also takes on a new role in this story. While leading up to this one, we’ve seen them build up their trust, friendship, and maybe even more, the events of the third book struck a blow and both are still reeling, not quite sure of the other or their partnership. Again, the extended wordcount allows Galbraith to devote a good chunk of time to each character’s perspectives on how they came to be where they are and how each is dealing with the challenges of their roles. Robin, especially, is still recovering from the events of the third book and her attack. I really appreciated the fact that her recovery and the on-going side-effects from something like this were not just swept under the rug, but instead presented as lasting and needing of attention to recover from.

Also, Matthew is the worst. It must be said once again and once again with feeling! MATTHEW IS THE WORST! And actually, this would probably be the one factor that holds me back from giving this book a full 10 star rating. At this point in the series, four books in, readers have a very clear idea of who Matthew is and what he is (and is not) capable of. With that being the case, his continuing presence in the story starts to verge away from “a character who is fun to hate” and more towards “a character whose ongoing involvement is starting to damage the characters around him.” Notably, Robin.

I love Robin; this has been well-documented. And I even have more reason than some to understand her ongoing difficulties with dislodging herself from a toxic person in her life. But at a certain point, this begins to feel like a bit too much and makes me question Robin’s own strength of character. I’m pleased to report that these concerns are calmed by the end, but I did find myself more frustrated with this aspect of the story than I have been in the past.

Kate’s Thoughts

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Actual footage of me outside the library door on release day. (source)

It felt like forever, but the most recent Cormoran Strike book, “Lethal White”, finally arrived this year after a three year hiatus, and let me tell you, was I ever so ready for it. Hell, I went to my old library, you know, the one that has the ‘new items that don’t circulate’ wall, stalked outside the door before it opened, and grabbed it for myself the day it came out (much to my old boss’s chagrin: she is ALSO very invested in this series and hoped that she could get dibs at the required fifteen minute wait; I dashed that hope BUT WELL). Given that “Career of Evil” kind of ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, I was more than ready to pick up where we left off. Oh, and I was looking forward to the mystery as well, because while it may seem like I read this series solely for the relationship between Cormoran and Robin, that simply isn’t true. At least not totally.

Galbraith does a great job of jumping right into it, so great that it didn’t feel like it was a clunky return at all in spite of the gap. We drop right in at the end of the last book and see how that all susses out, and then there’s a time jump so we can put our focus on the mystery at hand. While the time jump was frustrating in the sense of trying to get some pay off for the emotional fallout of said cliffhanger, it makes sense so that the attention is on Cormoran and Robin’s next case. And once again, Galbraith has created a compelling mystery to try and untangle, this one focusing on political leaders in Parliament, blackmail, and the possibility of a murdered child. While I think that some authors may have had a hard time tying it all together, Galbraith makes it seem easy. The book is the longest yet, coming in at 650some pages, but the mystery itself doesn’t feel bloated or drawn out. Seeing Cormoran and Robin tackle a very complicated case with the idle and dysfunctional rich, aggrieved and angry leftists, and a mentally ill man kept me on the edge of my seat, and kept me guessing most of the time, and rarely did I call what twists and turns would be coming up next.

Okay, mild spoilers here now: It’s also fun following Cormoran and Robin, as their detective dynamic is always a treat. And while it is strained a bit at first given her marriage to Matthew (a marriage she STILL went through with in spite of his general awfulness AND a moment between Robin and Strike that was VERY heavy), they fall into step and remind me what I love about their partnership. Cormoran and Robin still trust each others judgment and work well with each other, even though things are a little awkward given their unresolved feelings and now complicated relationship.

And let’s talk about the various relationship complications in this book. While I am still very much for the slow burn agony and ecstasy of the Cormoran and Robin “will they or won’t they” dynamic, I’m starting to lose some patience with various obstacles thrown in their way. For the life of me, I was NOT sold on Robin going through with her marriage to Matthew after the revelations in previous books (god AWFUL revelations that show how toxic and manipulative he is). I don’t feel that Galbraith gave us enough of a reason for Robin to try and give the marriage a go, and felt that it was just kind of thrown in there to prolong the will they, won’t they tension between Cormoran and Robin. On top of that, if you guys remember Cormoran’s manipulative and spoiled ex Charlotte from other books, she makes her first drawn out in person appearance in “Lethal White.” This, too, concerns me, as I worry that Galbraith is starting to lay the dominoes that could potentially cause more unnecessary drama down the line. I understand not wanting to show your hand too soon for getting two characters together (and really, it WAS satisfying when Ron and Hermione did FINALLY get together in book seven), but Cormoran and Robin may be treading towards unbelievable character flaws if this keeps going in the way it seems to be. All that said, I STILL LOVE THEM AS A FRIENDSHIP AND I STILL ROOT FOR THEM AS A ROMANTIC COUPLE.

Overall, “Lethal White” is a triumphant return to a series that I greatly enjoy. I really hope that we don’t have to wait another three years for the next one. Put “Fantastic Beasts” on the back burner until you have this one all done, Galbraith!!

Serena’s Rating 9: The best in the series so far, benefiting from a more complicated mystery and extended time devoted to the development of our main characters.

Kate’s Rating 9: My favorite entry yet, “Lethal White” was a most triumphant return to an excellent series. Galbraith is in top form in this one, and hopefully we’ll see more of Cormoran and Robin soon.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lethal White” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads list. But it should be on “Best Crime & Mystery Books.”

Find “Lethal White” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Broken Things”

37859646Book: “Broken Things” by Lauren Oliver

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from Edelweiss.

Book Description: It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods. 

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it. 

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.

Review: I want to say thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Horrorpalooza has officially begun!!! As you all know, the month of October is where I try to do all horror/upsetting thriller, all the time, and kicking off with the new Lauren Oliver is a great way to begin! Lauren Oliver has written some pretty stellar YA novels in multiple genres, but I think that her mind bending thrillers are her best. I especially liked the book “Vanishing Girls”, a book about two sisters with lots of problems. So when I saw that she had a new book coming out called “Broken Things”, I was intrigued, and when the plot sounded like it was inspired by the Slender Man Stabbing I had to have it. Oliver has always done a good job of making creepy atmospheres as well as creating damaged but interesting protagonists, so I had pretty high hopes for this book. And the good news is that “Broken Things” is another strong showing from Oliver.

This story is told through two perspectives in two different timelines. The first perspective is Brynn, the sardonic sarcastic girl of the friend group. After they were never charged with Summer’s murder, she left town, and has been in a seemingly fragile mental state, hopping in and out of rehab. The other is Mia, the quieter, kinder one of the group, who never left town but had her life be torn apart by her mother’s mental illness and the rumors that always plagued her. Both girls are very different characters, but Oliver does a good job of writing both of them and making their motivations known and understood. While Brynn’s story was the one that I liked the best of the two, I felt that Mia had the most character growth, so there was something to really enjoy through both POVs. Brynn and Mia are also equally complex, as Brynn was potentially in love with Summer back when she was alive, and Mia had a crush on Summer’s then boyfriend, turned fellow suspect. Their romantic entanglements, however, are not the main focus of their storylines, as the big relationship is the one between the two of them as they learn to trust each other again. I greatly enjoyed seeing them try to bridge that gap, especially since there might have been problems even before Summer died. And through their perspectives I felt like I got a good look into what Summer was like, and that she was just as well rounded as they were in spite of the fact that she didn’t have much in terms of her own perspectives.

The timelines are in the present, and what happened leading up to Summer’s death from the time they met her until the night that she died. Both timelines and both perspectives slowly and carefully lay out all of the pieces of the puzzle, and Oliver reveals them at her own pace in their own due time. While we knew everything that was going on in these character’s minds, and the various clues that each of them had, the two timelines and two perspectives made it so that we got to watch them bring it all together. It rarely felt like it was lagging or dragging as Brynn and Mia tackle the mystery, both of Summer’s death and also what Summer was actually like outside of being painted as a symbol of purity taken before her time. While I did guess a couple of things before their reveals, overall there were plenty of gasp worthy moments that took be by surprise. The journey of getting to the solution was lots of fun, with a lot of twisted and dark moments that made for a tense and eerie atmosphere.

I also liked the glimpses we got into the fantasy world of Lovelorn. Like the Slender Man Stabbing, the girls in question had become obsessed with a fantasy world that they believed, to a point, was real. While it may have been easy to just make up a slapdash version of Slender Man for this story, Oliver made a whole new world that had some unique elements. While it wasn’t the focus, we got enough tastes of this fantasy world that I felt like I knew it almost as well as Brynn, Mia, and Summer did. If Lauren Oliver wanted to write a couple of Lovelorn books, I would probably read them, and that’s coming from me, whose tastes in fantasy are VERY particular.

“Broken Things” is another tantalizing and thrilling book by Lauren Oliver, and she continues to show that there can be some well done crossovers between age groups when it comes to thrillers. Adults and teens alike will enjoy “Broken Things”.

Rating 9: An engrossing and thrilling mystery with complex and dark characters, “Broken Things” is a triumphant return to the teen thriller genre for Lauren Oliver.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Broken Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “Buzz Books 2018 – Young Adult Fall/Winter”, and “2018 YA Mysteries”.

Find “Broken Things” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Hollow of Fear”

363423301Book: “The Hollow of Fear” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women” and “A Conspiracy in Belgravia”

Review: I warned you in our “Highlights” post that a review was coming quickly! Thanks to the lovely Edelweiss, I’ve had access to this title for a while but had been trying to resist reading it until closer to its publication date. Torture indeed. And at this point, after three amazing books (spoiler: I loved this one), it’s such a pleasure to find another series that I can now put full faith into the fact that I’m sure to love future titles as well. Why can’t they all just be out now though?? They should defy space and time and arrive ala Netflix binging. But enough of that, on with the review!

The fallout of the events that took place in “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” are still being felt, most largely by Lord Ingram himself whose world has crumbled after the discovery of his wife’s involvement with the criminal mastermind Moriarty. But a bad situation can always get worse and very much does with the discovery of Lady Ingram’s body on his own property. Of course, Charlotte Holmes would never watch idly as disaster befell her dear friend. But still banished from society and with a gossip-worthy connection with Lord Ingram himself, how can she involve herself in the case in a useful manner? In disguise, of course!

Oh where, oh where to start my crazed ranting! I think part of my love still comes down to the very fact that this series exists and exists as well as it does. I’ve recommended it to a few people lately, including my husband, and his and many other’s responses have often been the same. Something like “…really? but…why?” For some, this is simply because they see no reason to adapt the character once again at all and for others there is a general distrust that a series could effectively gender swap the character while also maintaining its historical setting. And really, these are both legit concerns. In the last several years, though it has been waning a bit recently, it seems the entire world was under a certain “Sherlock” fever, with a new adaptation, either written or on some screen or another, announced every other day. But to these skeptics I say a loud and resounding “nay!” There is always room for another adaptation if and when an author is truly capable of bending these classic characters into something truly new without losing the essence of said characters and stories. And that is what makes Sherry Thomas’s books so amazing.

“The Hollow of Fear” is no exception. By this point, we know that Thomas has tackled the biggest challenge: creating a new version of Sherlock that both rings true to the original but also has enough novel factors to stand alone among other adaptations. And from there, it’s just a matter of releasing said character into another plot and seeing what happens. I think what makes this story stand out in particular is the fact that it is more of a direct sequel to its predecessor than the original. The first two definitely had connected through lines, but could perhaps be read individually. Here, this story directly pulls from the events of the last and is stronger for having a more robust mystery built upon information and puzzles that have been laid down through both books now.

I also enjoyed that the story largely takes place in a small space, Lord Ingram’s estate. We jump here and there to a few places in the surrounding community, but in many ways it reads like a classic mansion mystery where a large group gathers, a murder is committed, and the culprit and method must be sought out amidst the question of how such an event could occur with so many witnesses around.

All of our favorite characters make an appearance though the amount of page time for each is switched around a bit. Here, we spend a lot more time with Charlotte’s sister, Livia and got to see her come a bit into her own, building confidence as she went. We also spend a good amount of time with Detective Treadles, and I particularly enjoyed his storyline here. In the last few books, he’s been a bit unlikable due to his feelings and prejudices about his wife, but here we see him truly have to confront these aspects of himself. In retrospect, I very much enjoy this slow transformation. I think it reads as a much more honest version of this type of change and the moments that lead him to real inner reflection in this book also ring true for what would open one’s eyes about one’s own behaviors and thoughts with regards to these types of prejudices.

Charlotte herself is of course amazing. I very much enjoyed her undercover work, and it was a fun twist to see her more fully interacting with the mystery as the story unfolded. Due to her gender and outcast status, she always had to operate a bit on the sidelines in the past books, and while that lead to some really great moments too, this was a nice change of pace from what could have become a predictable set of events.

Her relationship with Lord Ingram was also further explored, and while I still very much enjoy this building relationship, there were a few things at the end that were particular to this couple that lead me to drop my rating from a full 10. Some of the explanations for past actions I’m not sure truly made sense or were necessary in the grand scheme of things. Instead, they almost read as excuses to include certain parts of the story that were hard to work in otherwise. And then were largely reset again at the end of this book. I’m curious where things will go from here, however, as I don’t think this type of bait-and-switch will work twice, so at some point this complicated relationship is going to need to be dealt with in another way.

The mystery itself was also very good and remains one of the strongest pros of the entire series. Here there were a few moments where I thought I had guessed at crucial information and was feeling quite smug about it only to later discover that, nope, that wasn’t right at all. And while there were a few very satisfying scenes at the end where Charlotte was able to put some self-important police investigators in their place, part of that reveal also relied on one concept that felt a bit too convenient. But, again, that’s a very nit-picky criticism. Because overall, for fans of historical mysteries, this series is turning out to be a must read!

Rating 9: Sherry Thomas continues to make the difficult task of writing a new version of Sherlock Holmes seem “elementary” indeed!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hollow of Fear” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2018.”

Find “The Hollow of Fear” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Age of Myth”

26863057Book: “Age of Myth” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Del Rey, June 2016

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

Book Description: Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between humans and those they thought were gods changes forever.

Now only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.

Review: I’m not sure how I’ve missed Michael J. Sullivan for so long. My only excuse is that sometimes I get too mired in YA fantasy specifically (because, c’mon, keeping up with that stuff is a full time job and I’m failing at even that!!). But on a whim I saw that this was available through my audiobook service at the library and decided to check it out. And boy, am I glad I did! It’s like discovering an entirely new shelf (yes, SHELF!!) of good books.

It all began in an instant, when, in a moment of panic and anger, Raithe killed the unkillable, a Fhrey whom he and his people had worshiped as gods for as long as history could be remembered. The domino effects of this decision now lead the human world into a bold new era, one that Raithe himself is reluctant to enter. But others have no choice, like a chieftain’s wife, Persephone, who finds this fight brought to her own door. And a young seer named Suri who only wants to live in the woods with her wise wolf, Mina. Others, too, both in the land of the humans and the land of the Fhrey, begin to feel the ripples of this shocking change to the world order, and suddenly so many find their lives heading in frighteningly new directions.

Wow, I was just blown away by this book. I don’t even know where to begin my gushing! The characters? The story? The world? The amazing audio book narrator? THE FACT THAT THE ENTIRE SERIES IS ALREADY WRITTEN AND SCHEDULED TO RELEASE REGULARLY?

The characters. There are a lot of them. As I’ve mentioned (again and again and, annoyingly, again), I typically prefer stories where we follow one, maybe two, main characters through a story. I often find my level of investment greatly fluctuating between characters when the cast of POVs is much larger, leading me to feel varying levels of interest and tending to skim sections as books go along. Not so, here. While we are originally introduced to Raithe and then Persephone, and while they do likely have the majority of the chapters, the book also introduces several other key characters such as Suri and even a few members of the Fhrey. These last couple of characters, the Fhrey, were the ones I was most concerned about. Were they all going to be enemies? How would their stories actually tie in with the events going on out in the human world? But I shouldn’t have been concerned. While one of these perspectives is essentially that of the villain, both provide important context clues into the cultural dynamics of both peoples and play major roles in the story, especially towards the end.

I particularly enjoyed Persephone’s story, however. Not only was she an interesting character in her own right, she was a rare exception to the type of female perspective we’re used to seeing in fantasy fiction. She’s not a young twenty something who is set up as the perfect romantic interest for the hero or who has unique magical powers. Instead, she’s in her upper 30s, about ten years older than Raithe himself, a wife and a mother. But while these roles are important to her, they do not define her or limit her storyline. Instead, in many ways, Persephone is the driving force of this rodeo and proves to be one of the more competent players in the game. I also super dig the fact that there looks to be the beginnings of some type of romance being set up between her and Raithe and the fact that this is a gender swap as far as the age gap goes.

The story itself is action packed. It’s the very beginning of a 6-7 book series, so we know that this book will mostly be setting the stage for a larger conflict. It also has a lot of world-building and character-introducing to do. So with all of that, it’s truly impressive how many cool action scenes are set throughout the book. We have politics, we have betrayals, we have sword fights, we have magical battles. It’s all there and it’s all great. What’s even better, these action sequences aren’t limited to some grand stand off at the end of the book (though there is that as well, actually multiple even there!). The story is peppered with these little skirmishes, and the book never feels like it is being mired down too much under its own weight of world creation.

The world itself is also very interesting. When I started this book, as I said, I had never read anything by this author. I was also unaware that this is essentially an ancient history prequel to the author’s other large series. (This is now its own problem since I feel like I can’t read those until I finish this one as there might be some spoilers there as to how this all plays out…but this series isn’t even all released yet so that’s even more delay in getting to those!!) But as the groundwork is being laid out in this book, I never felt like this lack of prior knowledge was a hindrance. Some of this is due to the fact that many aspects of this story are familiar to fantasy readers. We essentially have the classic trio of beings: humans, elves, and dwarfs. The magic system itself, while so far only briefly discussed, is also fairly simple and approachable. This familiarity makes it easy to quickly feel connected with the world presented and allows the story devote more time to its characters and plot. While some readers may find these similarities as almost too familiar, not providing enough unique elements to make the series stand out on its own, I, for one, wasn’t bothered by it. If the story is strong, you have solid characters, and it’s clear the author is enjoying the world they built, I say there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the tried and true classic aspects of fantasy fiction.

As I referenced above, one of the unique aspects of Sullivan’s style of writing is that he completes an entire series before beginning to release them. This is so, so refreshing in epic fantasy fiction. I don’t even need to name names or point fingers, we all know the examples. All too often, beginning a new fantasy series feels a bit like rolling the dice. Will this series have massive breaks between books? How many total years am I looking at until I get some resolution? Will the author even FINISH this series? Here, those questions are answered, and I’m so thankful for it. There are a few other authors out there, like Brandon Sanderson, who you can count on to release their books quickly and efficiently, even if they write them one by one. But it’s a whole new level of reassurance to know that a series is already finished when you start. Not only will books come out on a regular schedule, but there’s some satisfaction in knowing the author has already thought through all the various plot points, and that he will not write himself into any corners.

Lastly, this book was read by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who, as always, was absolutely brilliant. He primarily reads for fantasy fiction, and I believe he’s narrated all of Sullivan’s prior books. I look forward to continuing on with this series through the audiobooks.

Whew! A long review for this one, but well worth it given how much I had to praise! If you, like me, have somehow been living under a rock as far as Sullivan’s writing goes, I definitely encourage you to check it out. While I’m loving this series, you may want to avoid the trap I now find myself in and start with his other series that have already been published. Who knows, I may break down and skip to one of those early anyways!

Rating 9: Near perfect! Why bother saying more here when I’ve already raved on forever above?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Age of Myth” is on these Goodreads lists: “High Fantasy Books That AREN’T The Lord of The Rings Or George R. Martin” and “Epic/Heroic fantasy with kick-butt heroes AND heroines.”

Find “Age of Myth” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Book Club Review: “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol 2)”

37675578We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. 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 “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

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

Book: “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol. 2) by Hope Nicholson (ed.)

Publishing Info: Alternate History Comics Inc., 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

B-Side Book: “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol.1)”

Book Description: The highly anticipated second volume of the multiple award-winning collection is here! MOONSHOT The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2 brings you even more original comic book stories, written by Indigenous authors from across North America. Gorgeously illustrated by a mix of award-winning artists, Volume 2 will take you on a stunning journey through this world, and to worlds beyond!

Kate’s Thoughts

If you guys remember, I read “Moonshot Volume 1” a couple years ago, and really really enjoyed it. I loved the artwork, I loved the varied stories, I loved that it gave a platform to voices who we don’t hear nearly enough of in literature. Now we come to “Moonshot Volume 2”, and I knew that while I would like it, it would be hard to top my love for the first collection. And yet “Moonshot Volume 2” did. I think that what I liked more about this one (as much as I loved the first) was that it felt like it tackled more issues within Indigenous communities, such as suicide, addiction, the murder and abuse of Indigenous women, poverty, and water rights. While I found all of th stories strong in their own ways, I had a couple favorites that I will lay out here.

“Worst Bargain in Town” by Darcie Little Badger and Rossi Gifford (Ill.)

This story, originating from Lipan culture, is mostly about cultural appropriation of Native aesthetics and fashion, and how White Culture tries to benefit off of it while taking power and ownership from Native groups. Kat and Laura are two Lipan women who are wary of the new beautician in town, who REALLY wants to cut their hair. Turns out this hairdresser is a demon that is taking the hair she cuts and consuming it, sapping the power from the hair’s owners. I liked that it touched on the issue in two ways. The first and more obvious connection is how the beautician is taking the culture from Indigenous women and benefiting from it. You see this in non metaphorical ways in everyday life, be it buying Native designs from non-Native artists for clothing or decor, or through those people who wear head dresses at outdoor music festivals, etcetera. But the other way goes back to a more direct form of colonialism, as Native Children in America were taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools in an effort to ‘civilize’ them, where their hair would be cut. Given that within the Lipan culture hair is a source of strength, the metaphor in this story is especially chilling. The illustrations, however, are fun and lighthearted, and while one may worry that it may take power away from the story, it doesn’t.

“Water Spirits” by Richard Van Camp and Haiwei Hou (Ill.)

Given the visibility of the NODAPL movement, Water Rights have been a hot topic within the public consciousness as of late. Richard Van Camp’s story concerns a school field trip going to a now defunct mine, and being led on a tour by a Native man who has a lot of knowledge of it’s history and how the mine has changed and affected the community. This story examines the consequences of capitalism at the expense of the environment, and how our Western culture tends to value things that are arguably not as essential (like gold within this mine) as VERY essential things (like water). There is a certain simplicity to this story, as it’s really just a field trip, but the message comes through loud and clear: we are poisoning the Earth because of our capitalistic values, and we won’t be able to come back from it. What really stood out for me in this story, however, was the artwork. It has a very realistic, almost Roto-Scope quality to it, and it’s uniqueness really made it pop off the page.

water-spirit-by-haiwei-hou-600x946
I mean just look at it. (source)

But all of the stories are strong. If you haven’t read the “Moonshot” books yet, do yourself a favor and get your hands on them.

Serena’s Thoughts

Unfortunately, I had to return my copy to the library, so I don’t have have a list of the individual story titles and authors in front of me. Instead, my portion of the review will focus on general topics/themes throughout the book.

I’m also in the camp of enjoying this collection more than the first. While I didn’t review it here, I did read it and really liked many of the stories. In this second iteration, it felt like the collection simply felt more comfortable in its skin, more fully embracing its own concept and messages. As opposed to the first collection, many of the stories in this collection delved into topics that are currently heavy hitters in the Native population.

Kate mentioned water rights, but there were also intensely sad (and sensitive) explorations of the high suicide rate that exists in Native nations. I particularly enjoyed (doesn’t feel like that should be the right word about such a sad story) a story about a young man who is experiencing grief at the loss of another boy close to him to suicide. The artwork in this particular story was also gorgeous and worked perfectly with the somber subject matter, painting its images in muted hues of blues and greens.

There were also a few stories that leaned into the science fiction/fantasy angle, and of course I really loved those, too. The art in these were particularly love, with vibrant colors and interesting animation choices for how characters are drawn.

There were a few stories that I did struggle with, however. Particularly the first story in the book. This one picked up seemingly in the middle of a story and also was incredibly short. It was interesting, but also a bit confusing and off-putting. I think it was definitely worth including, but I question choosing to have that story introduce the collection as it isn’t really representative of what’s to come and could turn off the casual browser.

Overall, however, I very much enjoyed “Moonshot Volume 2” and highly recommend it!

Kate’s Rating 9: A fabulous and powerful collection that has a lot of salient points and a lot of heart, “Moonshot Volume 2” is a must read for comics fans.

Serena’s Rating 9: An even stronger outing that the first, “Moonshot Volume 2” leans into contemporary challenges faced by the Native nations.

Book Club Questions

  1. If you have read “Moonshot Vol. 1”, which collection did you prefer more? Why?
  2. There are multiple issues that affect Indigenous Communities that are touched upon in these stories. Did any of these themes have an especially striking affect on you? Which one, and why?
  3. How familiar are you with topics that were discussed in this collection, such as Water Rights, Cultural Appropriation, abuse cycles, etcetera? Did reading these stories make you want to learn more about these things?
  4. Did you feel that the artistic choices and illustrations reflected all of the stories well? Were there any stories where you felt that the art really strengthened it? Or weakened it?
  5. What was your favorite story within the collection? What was it about this story that stood out for you?

Reader’s Advisory

“Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Volume 2)” is not included on any Goodreads lists, but it would fit in on “Indigenous Peoples”, and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native People’s of the World”.

Find “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Volume 2)” at your library using WorldCat.