Kate’s Review: “We Eat Our Own”

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

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Kate’s Reviews: “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”

23043731Book: “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, January 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: NEW HORROR SERIES FROM THE WALKING DEAD CREATOR ROBERT KIRKMAN! Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life and now he needs answers. Unfortunately, what he uncovers along the way could bring about the end of life on Earth as we know it. Collects OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA #1-6.

Review: I guess I’m kind of on a Kirkman kick this week, huh? First we had “Rise of the Governor’ and now we’re going back to his comics roots with “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”. Perhaps you’ve heard that this comic series, which focuses on demonic possession as opposed to zombies, now has a television show as well. While I haven’t checked that one out, I did decide it was high time to check out the source material. Demonic possession stories are not as high on my list as zombies are when it comes to themes in horror stories. While I think there is a lot you can do with the zombie trope and while I think you have lots of room to experiment with it, demonic possession tends to be pretty rooted in religious mythology, almost always Judeo-Christian mythology at that. But I have faith in Kirkman, and so I went in with an open mind.

The story concerns Kyle, a down on his luck and severely depressed man who has seemingly lost everything. His mother is in a perpetual state of catatonia, his wife left him and took their daughter with her after she accused him of beating the girl up, and he spends most of his days cut off from the world except when his sister Megan visits. But soon he’s approached by a local clergyman named Anderson, who wants his help dealing with a possessed boy. After all, Kyle is no stranger to possession. Unlike “The Walking Dead”, a comic without many mysteries, “Outcast” takes it’ sweet time unveiling the pieces of the puzzle that make it up. Going in we know very little about Kyle, and Kirkman is more interested in showing rather than telling this time around. Kyle is a character that even after Volume 1 I feel like I don’t know much about him, but he’s being drawn out in such a meticulous way that I’m not in any hurry to know everything. Especially since there is clearly so much tragedy in his life that many of these revelations are going to be no doubt painful. But as of right now, we know that Kyle has seen people he loves taken over by demons, which ultimately results in him losing them one way or another. Kyle is a tragic character who wants the world to leave him be, but happenstance always yanks him back to demons one way or another.

My favorite character as of right now, though, is Megan, Kyle’s sister whom he met in foster care before he was permanently taken in by her family. Megan is loyal and stubborn, and she has a family of her own now that Kyle is too afraid to get close to (not to mention her husband Mark believes that Kyle is a monster because of what happened to Kyle’s daughter). She is no nonsense and has not, as of yet, willingly played the part of a madonna in need of protecting (like Kyle’s ex wife Allison), which I am always afraid of in stories like this. Kirkman has written some very strong ladies in his day, and I’m happy to say that as of now Megan is one of those ladies. The other women in the book are not as well focused, as Allison is a spectral figure who Kyle is watching over and pining for, and a mysterious woman named Mildred who has been exorcised once before, and can’t stand to be near Kyle for probably pretty obvious reasons if you really think about it.

So is “Outcast” scary? For me, not really. I’m never really scared by stories like this, but at this point the plot is very much in set up mode. We see a few demons, and we see what becomes of them after Kyle and Anderson are able to get rid of them. But for now all we know is that Kyle has a strange power that makes him a huge threat to them. We know little about their actual origins, if they are religious as Anderson thinks they are, or not. I think that once all of the foundation is in place for this series, the scares will be able to come out in fuller force. Until then, we are very much talking about a character study, from broken Kyle to zealous Anderson to empathetic Megan, and even volatile Mark. However, there is one character who is giving me some serious creeps, and that is Sidney, a strange old man who has been lurking around Kyle and Anderson. He is clearly much much more than he appears to be given the last we saw of him (no spoilers here), and I definitely want to see more of this weirdo. He’s a far more interesting villain than the random demons as of now, and lord knows they gotta be connected somehow. Plus, I guess Brent Spiner plays him on the television show, so now THAT association is going to be fixed in my mind as I go forward as I continuously ask myself ‘what would a possessed Data look like?’

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Good God, forget I asked. (source)

I would be a dope if I didn’t talk about the artwork in this book. Again, a wonderful illustrator has been chosen to give this comic it’s own tone and feel through design, and the colors (by colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser) add to the overall effect. The characters are all rather grim in their appearance, but they all have distinct looks and traits that separate them from each other. Lots of shadows are used to set a scene, from the darker images and saturations of Kyle’s home to the brighter but dull scenes of Anderson’s church. But the exception is the color red. Red always jumps off the page no matter what.

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(source)

Vibrant colors and bold hues are seen throughout the pages, and I loved how different it all was from other Kirkman comics. The scenes are works of art.

“Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” has some serious potential to be a great comic. It’s going slowly as it sets everything up, but I feel as though I’m willing to try and be patient just so I can see how it’s all going to play out. This is a different kind of horror comic from Robert Kirkman, and.I am ready to dive in.

Rating 7: Though it’s slow moving and I don’t have a complete feel for all the characters yet, “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” is setting itself up to be a very interesting comic about demons, the literal and the figurative kinds.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” is, frankly, only on lists that don’t represent it’s themes at all. So let’s stick to horror comics and say that you should look at “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” if you want comics in a similar vein.

Find “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” at your library using Worldcat!

 

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

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

Publishing Info: Macmillam Audio, October 2011

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

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

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

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Hottie alert. (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Kate’s Review: “And the Trees Crept In”

28449150Book: “And the Trees Crept In” by Dawn Kurtagich

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead Houseauthor Dawn Kurtagich

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

Review: What makes a good gothic horror story? There are many things that need to come together to really make a horror story a gothic one. You usually need a protagonist who is female, though really this isn’t a hard and fast rule anymore. It was just a very common protagonist type back in the Victorian era when these stories were super popular and remain classics. You also need a house or place of action that is isolated and generally creepy in ambiance, like a manor house or a hospital. And there usually has to be a question of what or who is actually causing the conflict of the story: is it something otherworldly, or is it just our poor isolated protagonist losing a grip on reality. “And the Trees Crept In” by Dawn Kurtagich is a pretty good representation of the gothic horror genre, and since it’s written for teens who may be more interested in something that’s more in your face than filled with nuance, I think that it’s a breath of fresh air, YA literary world wise. You have Silla and Nori, two sisters who have fled their abusive home life to live with their Aunt Cath, whose large blood red manor house is in the middle of a forest. From the get go things are strange for the sisters. There’s no technology in the house to be seen, Aunt Cath is both very happy to have them but filled with anxiety, and house seems to be in all kinds of disrepair. Soon Aunt Cath has locked herself in the attic and the trees in the woods seem to get closer and closer to the house. “I am ON BOARD!” I crowed to myself as I started this book, and given that there was talk of a Slenderman-like creepy thing in the woods (super tall, no eyes, huuuuge grin), I was even more elated to devour this book.

But then…. It became really weird, really fast.

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…..Huh. (source)

While the Gothic genre is certainly supposed to be about isolation and questions of sanity, “And the Trees Crept In” kind of took it a little too far and into a realm that was beyond cohesive and more muddled. The story is told mostly from Silla’s point of view, though sometimes Nori’s random scribbles and notes do get some play as well. But mostly it’s a first person narrative from Silla, and diary entries from Silla, which lends perfectly to an unreliable narrator device. However, as Silla’s diary entries go on, they become more and more unclear as to what exactly is going on, just as her narration starts to fall to pieces as well. Normally this is fine in this genre, but I feel that Kurtagich almost took it too far, as by the time we got to the end of the book I was just lost and more frustrated than not. Writing a well done and believable descent into madness is hard to do, to be sure, and while a valiant effort was made here, it didn’t totally work. That being said, everything does eventually get explained in a narrative moment given by Silla’s love interest Gowan. While I appreciated that explanation was given, and while it did TOTALLY make sense, I think that it shouldn’t take a literal monologue of rundown and explanation to achieve that. And on TOP of that, there is a HUGE random twist at the end that just came completely out of left field! That was strange and I didn’t know how to feel about it. There wasn’t really any reason for it to go on top of the other twist that was revealed.

And let’s talk about Gowan and Silla a little bit. Silla’s characterization of a girl who is possibly losing her mind made it very hard for me to be like ‘oh yes, Silla and Gowan FOREVER’. While Gowan does serve a purpose in terms of wrapping things up for us readers in a tight little bow, I don’t quite buy into the romance that these two are supposed to have. I mean, after all is said and done I GET it, but I still don’t quite buy it. There wasn’t enough there before the end to make me really feel all that invested in it. I was far more interested in Silla’s relationship with her little sister Nori. The dynamic was not only interesting because of the age difference (Silla was ten when Nori was born and has always felt like a second mother to her), but because of the fact that Nori is mute. They can communicate with each other, and they have a strong love and bond through their clandestine communication, which gave a more desperate dynamic to both of them. In one sense it makes Silla more desperate to protect her since she seems to have that added layer of vulnerability, but it also makes a tension bubble up because Silla has a harder and harder time having her only company (outside of Gowan’s intermittent visits) be someone who has no voice and is different from her. And Nori’s fascination with the strange being in the woods adds even more tension still. I am admittedly pretty ignorant when it comes to what it is like to be a mute person, but I feel that Nori was portrayed in a sensitive manner.

At the end of the day, I did enjoy this confusing gothic tale of terror. I think that it definitely could have been a bit less convoluted while still maintaining it’s gothic aura. I would tell readers that it does all make sense. You just have to be willing to wait for it.

Rating 7: A pretty confusing and odd tale with a plot that needed explanation, but once it was clear what was going on I was pretty okay with it. There were some unsettling and creepy moments and the Slenderman-esque imagery was spooky.

Reader’s Advisory:

“And the Trees Crept In” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Diverse Horror”,  and “New Speculative Fiction Stars”.

Find “And the Trees Crept In” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Prisoner of Hell Gate”

26114305Book: “The Prisoner of Hell Gate” by Dana I. Wolff

Publishing Info: Picador, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: FOUR DECADES AFTER TYPHOID MARY WENT TO HER GRAVE, FIVE CURIOUS GRADUATE STUDENTS STRUGGLE TO ESCAPE ALIVE FROM THE ABANDONED ISLAND THAT ONCE IMPRISONED HER. CONTAGION DOESN’T DIE. IT JUST WAITS.

In the Hell Gate section of New York’s East River lie the sad islands where, for centuries, people locked away what they most feared: the contagious, the disfigured, the addicted, the criminally insane.

Here infection slowly consumed the stricken. Here a desperate captain ran his doomed steamship aground and watched flames devour 1500 souls. Here George A. Soper imprisoned the infamous Typhoid Mary after she spread sickness and death in Manhattan’s most privileged quarters.

George’s great-granddaughter, Karalee, and her fellow graduate students in public health know that story. But as they poke in and out of the macabre hospital rooms of abandoned North Brother Island—bantering, taking pictures, recalling history—they are missing something: Hidden evil watches over them—and plots against them.

Death doesn’t only visit Hell Gate. It comes to stay.

As darkness falls, the students find themselves marooned—their casual trespass having unleashed a chain of horrific events beyond anyone’s imagination.

Disease lurks among the eerie ruins where Typhoid Mary once lived and breathed. Ravenous flies swarm puddles of blood. Rot and decay cling to human skin. And spiteful ghosts haunt the living and undead.

Soon five students of history will learn more than they ever wanted to know about New York’s foul underbelly: the meaning of spine-tingling cries down the corridor, of mysterious fires, of disfiguring murder, and of an avenging presence so sinister they’d rather risk their lives than face the terror of one more night.

Review: Here is a brief history lesson for those who may not be as privy to the genuinely tragic story of Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who came to America in 1883, and eventually took a position as a cook for upper class families. For immigrant women during this time period, choices were limited, as servitude or prostitution were two very common end games for them. Mary was lucky enough to find work as a cook, but unfortunately she was an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. She was quarantined twice in her life, and when she was released the first time she was explicitly told that she couldn’t be a cook anymore. So she worked as a laundress for awhile, but unsatisfied with the pay she changed her name and started cooking again…. and more typhoid infections broke out. Eventually she was found, and spent the rest of her life in quarantine (source). “Prisoner of Hell Gate” kind of takes liberties with the history of Typhoid Mary, and twists it a bit to suit the story and the message that Wolff wants to convey. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the message (mistreatment of lower class women during the turn of the 20th century was wrong, oppressive, and had high consequences), I do think that “Prisoner at Hell Gate” was a bit too focused on this message and sacrificed scares for a soap box.

Also, to really talk about the issues I had with this book, I’m going to have to delve into spoilers. So if you want to read this book, you may want to avoid this review.

The core group of protagonists (known as the Sewer Rats for their Public Health focus in grad school) are mostly flat caricatures. The main character, Karalee, is the great grand-daughter of George Soper, the man who hunted Typhoid Mary down and ultimately confined her in isolation for the rest of her life. Karalee has mixed feelings about her legacy and feels a need to defend Typhoid Mary, not really necessarily because of Mary herself, but because of the toxic pride that her father took in the Soper legacy that negatively affected her and because of the cruddy situation women had during that time period in general. She is the most complex character in this group, and is leaps and bounds more fleshed out than her companions. Chick is her boyfriend and he’s the epitome of misogynistic jerk that we are supposed to want dead. He’s a creep, he’s racist, he’s potentially anti-Semitic, and he’s sleeping with Karalee who is his student, but he was so moustache twirly in his evilness that it just felt lazy. Root for him to die because HE’S TERRIBLE was how it felt. I’m never into easy outs like that. There’s Josh, who embodied the neurotic Jew stereotype to the point that I was feeling uncomfortable. There’s Gerard, who is pretty boring and forgettable. And then there’s Elena, who I thought could have had some serious potential, but who didn’t get to be much more than the sassy Latina. I liked that we did have some diversity in this group (Josh, Gerard, and Elena), but it was very unfortunate that none of them were terribly complex.

And then there’s Mary. In this story, Typhoid Mary isn’t necessarily a carrier of Typhoid, but some kind of superhuman being that has evolved beyond being sick and even aging itself. We aren’t really told why, it’s just given as the reality to fit the narrative so that Mary can still be alive and antagonistic forty years after her supposed death. When our group of Sewer Rats stupidly maroon themselves on the supposedly abandoned island where she was left to rot, Mary decides that they all deserve to die, especially Karalee, the descendent of the man who sent her there. And this is where I just can’t totally buy in to this story. I myself do have sympathy for Mary Maron, because yeah, wow, what a shitty hand to be dealt. You are a carrier of a deadly disease without known treatment, and because of this your life has been changed and you cannot exercise the same, LIMITED rights that lower class women have in society. But, that said, I am just not totally willing to say because of this, these dumbasses who crash land on her island deserve to contract typhoid and die. If I’m feeling SUPER generous, maybe I’ll give you Chick. Maybe. But Elena, Josh, Gerard, and Karalee? Nope. Not at all. If it was an attempt to empower Mary, it didn’t work for me. If there had been some actual retribution towards George Soper as he was written in this book, I could have probably been on board! But analogs for him through his descendent and a chauvinist, plus three to round out the body count, just didn’t have the same empowering effect.

In terms of scary moments, this book did have a few of them. At first I was really intrigued by the atmosphere of the Sewer Rats tromping through an abandoned island with remnants of humanity. Abandoned buildings, shadows in the dark, scary noises in the night, all of these things made for some tense moments that genuinely set me on edge during parts of this story. It felt very “Blair Witch” meets “Abandoned By Disney” , which is the kind of story that freaks me out. What we don’t see is far scarier than what we do, in my opinion. But once they met up with Mary the story started to suffer. Hell, once it was made clear that Mary had her own perspective chapters, I was immediately put off. Had we not had the Mary perspective at all, and had the Sewer Rats been stalked by an unknown person or thing in the woods around them, I think it would have been far more interesting as a horror novel. As it was, the seeming need to justify the aggression that Mary felt and exercised towards the Sewer Rats really hindered what could have been a creepy and genuinely scary narrative.

It’s too bad that “Prisoner of Hell Gate” wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It had promise, but fell flat.

Rating 5: Unlikable characters, an unsympathetic antagonist who is meant to be sympathetic, and a frustrating focus made this a frustrating book to read. There are decent scares and moments in it, but overall didn’t live up to what I’d hoped it would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Prisoner of Hell Gate” is not on any Goodreads lists yet, but if you’re interested in books on illness look at “Public Health”. And while I wouldn’t consider this book a ‘best of’, the list “Best Wilderness Horror Stories” could be something you want to look at.

Find “The Prisoner at Hell Gate” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible”

23308488Book: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Robert Hack (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Archie Comics, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book?: The library!

Book Description: On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here! For TEEN+ readers.

Compiles the first six issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Review: Okay readers, listen up! It is my first post in the month of October, and I have a certain thing I do every year during my favorite month: It’s called Horrorpalooza and I will be reading all horror, all the time. Well, at least things that have to do with horror, be it the genre itself or stories about ghosts, ghouls, witches, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night. So we are starting this horror festival off right with “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible”. I had a couple of associations for Archie Comics’ magical heroine Sabrina “The Teenage Witch” Spellman from my youth. When I was in elementary school it was the plucky spin off character from Archie Comics. When I was a tween and early teen it was Melissa Joan Hart’s TV character who showed up on my TV every Friday night (until she went to college and the cast went through a huge overhaul. Forget that!). So when I heard about the newest version from Archie comics, and heard that it was supposed to be scary and horror based, I didn’t have big expectations. I figured it would be marginally creepy, maybe like “Scream Queens” level creepy, and that it would be kind of fun.

Oh my God. I was so, so very wrong. Because in the very first scene, Diana Spellman is running through the woods with her baby daughter Sabrina, hoping to save her from the family of witches she had unwittingly married into…. Only to have Edward, her husband, stick her in a mental institution after wiping her sanity from her.

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This is not the Sabrina of my youth. (source)

Friends, in this story arc, Sabrina is a teenage witch living in the 1960s and her aunts are brides of Satan. As she is approaching her sixteenth birthday she has to choose between devoting her life to Satan and witchcraft, or to pick a mortal life to live with her high school sweetheart Harvey Kinkle. But there is also the threat of Madam Satan, a powerful witch from the Spellman family’s past who is hell bent on revenge. This is some Anne Rice “Witching Hour” stuff here, guys, and let me tell you, it is done VERY well. It also caught me completely off guard, as I did not expect this dark, twisted story to come from ARCHIE COMICS of all places! Between Aunts Hilda and Zelda partaking in cannibalism and Sabrina herself casting spells that take away people’s free will, and Madam FREAKING Satan peeling people’s faces off (off page, thankfully) to place across her own mutilated face, I felt like I was reading an old school folk tale about witches in all their evil, nasty glory, and I was LIVING FOR EVERY MOMENT OF IT. Because “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a damn good horror comic, and I would even go so far as to say that it’s the best horror comic out there right now.

The twisting of the old Sabrina story is incredible, really. I love the new fun and funky witch stories that have cropped up in the 20th and 21st centuries, like “Bewitched” and the original “Sabrina” stories, but there is something to be said for some of the scary portrayals like “The Blair Witch Project” (and its recent sequel) and “The Witch.” By taking Sabrina Spellman, one of the tamest of witch stories, and making it into a Puritanical nightmare, Aguirre-Sacasa has made a new horror narrative that also, somehow, has its tongue planted firmly in cheek. There is something both upsetting and hilarious about seeing Sabrina Spellman ride a big black goat through the air as part of her “christening,” just as it’s unsettling seeing Betty and Veronica in Riverdale trying to raise a succubus to finally settle their feud over Archie once and for all. I was laughing and also freaking out about how royally screwed up this all was. We are following incredibly wicked characters, characters who commit heinous acts and commit themselves to what we are to believe is the worst kind of evil in this world, and yet they are so familiar and kind of devilishly fun in how they’ve gotten so twisted up. The only two characters that seem to have their original, fairly benign and caring hearts, are Sabrina herself, and her dutiful cat Salem. And my God was it just nostagia-filled loveliness to see that Salem is still there for his witch.

The artwork, too, is a sight to see. It was what really tipped me off right as I opened it that this was going to be something far greater than I anticipated. It looks like watercolor sketches, which gives the book an eerie and dreamy feel. Robert Hack has also been known for his other comic work, such as “Afterlife with Archie” and a few runs at “Doctor Who”, and his style really adds to the aesthetic of the story.

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(source)

I love the faded quality to it, with the splashes of realism when it comes to a book that Sabrina may be reading, or a very important moment or character. I find it gorgeous and I hope that Hack stays with the series in its entirety. I can’t imagine it with any other style.

So if you are looking for some serious hardcore witch stories this lovely October, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” needs to be put on your list. The tribute to old time witch mythos combined with a familiar, if not very inverted, cast of characters is an act of genius. Sabrina Spellman, I am so happy that this is what you’ve become.

Rating 10: A fun and incredibly disturbing horror comic for fans of old school witch and witchcraft mythology. The best horror comic being written right now, hands down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is fairly new and has not found its way on many lists yet. But check out “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Witches and Other Sundry Spirits”.

Find “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Forsaken”

9775490Book: “Forsaken” by Leanna Ellis

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: “Hannah cannot move on.”

She pines for Jacob, the boy who saved her life when she drowned, bringing her back from the brink of death by breathing life into her.

“But Jacob is gone now, buried.”

Levi’s love for Hannah burns just as strong. But he knows how much Hannah loved his brother Jacob. He also knows the troubling event that took Jacob out of their lives. And he lives with that lie every day.

So when a stranger named Akiva comes to their community, he carries with him two secrets that will change their lives forever: he is in fact Jacob, whom Hannah had lost. And he is now a vampire.

When passions stir and secrets are revealed, Hannah must choose between light and dark, between the one she has always loved and the new possibility of love. But it’s more than a choice of passion; it’s a decision that will determine the fate of her soul.

Review: Did you know that there is not only Amish Romance, but apparently there is also AMISH VAMPIRE ROMANCE???

DID YOU!?!?!?

Because I didn’t, and the moment that I found this out I was like

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WHY IS THIS A THING?! (source)

So what did I do? I requested it as soon as I could because OH MY GOD HOW BIZARRE. I don’t know what I expected. I mean, it’s laid out pretty plainly just what this book is going to be. We have a pious and pure Amish woman who is tempted by a vampire because he’s her long lost love, so of course it’s going to be filled with over the top moments, dialogue, and nonsense. And I know that this book is SO not written for me. But….. Let’s be real, Amish Romance is a special niche of Christian fiction that lets people enjoy wholesome romantic scenes without having to worry about smutty moments. So to me, adding a vampire isn’t going to end up in any way outside of good conquering evil and goodness triumphing over the unholy. But this book gives it the ol’ college try of making the story unpredictable. As if we didn’t know that ultimately Hannah was going to choose the side of the light. Which, hey, more power to Hannah and more power to that kind of story, as some people like that kind of thing. But there sure were a lot of things about this book that rubbed me the wrong way outside of my own predilection for walking on the wild side, fiction wise.

And okay look, you’re going to get some spoilers here, so buckle up.

First of all, I was a bit taken aback by the implications that Jacob (or Akiva, as is his vampire name), the Amish boy who was so taken with travel, art, poetry, and a potential life outside of the Amish community, was effectively punished for his wanderlust by being turned into a vampire. And beyond that, he was portrayed as selfish for being intrigued by a life outside of his community, as if even deigning to imagine a life outside of it is an act punishable by vampirism. Though it seems not to happen terribly often from my limited research, Rumspringa does sometimes lead to people leaving the Amish community. So what is that saying about those who legitimately don’t fit in within the community they were born into and do want to leave it? As it was it kind of came off as judgmental and kind of shame-y, as if you were going to be corrupted for the rest of your days by choosing a different path. Or in Jacob’s case, even thinking about it, as he did, in fact, return home to be baptized! He was just turned into a vampire before he could be. So even thinking of it is so bad you’re punished in such a way? Jacob was this whole concept personified, especially since we had the contrast of his brother Levi (who is the other point in the love triangle with Hannah and Jacob/Akiva). Levi is not only a true and devout Amish man, but also the TRUE hero of the story here in more ways than one. The part that had me absolutely incensed was that when Hannah, our heroine, was younger she almost drowned, and as she remembers it Jacob pulled her out of the water she was caught up in and saved her by breathing air back into her lungs. It was actually a kind of nice backstory to their romance, in my opinion, as it displayed bravery on Jacob’s part and also affection, as well as showing why Hannah may have had a deeper connection to him outside of being essentially betrothed to him. But then, at DEFCON ONE of the climax, it is revealed that it was actually Levi the whole time that had saved her! And JACOB was panicky and scared and did nothing when she was unconscious! So Jacob, who is a freaking vampire and couldn’t even have ultimately won Hannah’s hand in this kind of gross and weird love triangle in the first place, doesn’t even get to have that act of heroism going for him, and is in fact a total coward!! Was that necessary? I don’t think so. I don’t understand why Jacob couldn’t have been more well rounded and multi-faceted, but oh well, apparently you can only be purely good (the steadfast and dependable Levi) or purely evil (the flitty-dreamer-coward-turned-vampire Jacob/Akiva). Heaven forbid there be complexity to these characters. Jacob could have been brave once in his life is all I’m saying.

I also took serious umbrage with poor Hannah’s portrayal. At one point I thought that we were getting a kind of self assured and headstrong female lead who could handle herself, as at one point she told Levi that she didn’t need him to protect her and that she could take care of herself. I’d hoped that that was going to be a theme for her throughout the book, but then it became abundantly clear that no, she couldn’t actually take care of herself and she quite obviously did need Levi’s protection and guidance. After all, Jacob encourages her to dance, drive in a car, and drink alcohol, and this is portrayed in a negative way as if he’s leading her astray IN SPITE OF THE FACT that Hannah never did participate in Rumspringa! So this could feasibly be seen as her doing what most Amish kids are encouraged to do!!! Not once is Hannah portrayed as her own person. She either belongs to Jacob, Levi, or a higher power. Never herself.

And again, I know that this is a different value system than mine, and that this book is not for me but more for them, but the moment you bring vampires into a story, it’s fair game for me. So let’s talk about the vampires. I liked that they are portrayed as more animalistic and less romantic. I liked the mythology that Ellis gave them, as limited as it felt at times. But I also felt like there wasn’t much research done into the history of vampires and how they are portrayed in literature. There was a scene with a character named Roc, a cop from New Orleans with his own personal vendetta against vampires (and a character that I actually thought was pretty okay, when all was said and done. Of course I like the hot mess abrasive cop who drinks too much). In this scene he’s talking with a childhood friend who is now a priest, and he asks if sunlight is indeed something that can hurt vampires. His friend says no. I was pretty excited, because yeah, in older vampire lore sunlight didn’t play into it, that’s a comparatively new part of the mythology. But then the priest said something along the lines of falsehoods being perpetuated by vampires and vampire sympathizers to keep their actual weaknesses hidden, to which Roc asked if that meant that Bram Stoker was a vampire or vampire sympathizer, to which he got a veiled yes.

Guys, in the book “Dracula”, Count Dracula WALKS AROUND IN THE DAYLIGHT. And by this books logic, that confirms that vampires can walk around in daylight! So how would being totally truthful make Stoker a vampire or vampire sympathizer?! I’m okay with promoting fun ideas of vampire myths being propaganda that can be twisted to what suits them, but if you’re going to do that, know which myths apply to which stories!

So yeah. This book wasn’t for me. I couldn’t even really enjoy it in a guilty pleasure ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way. But, that said, I know that a lot of people probably would like this book, both legitimately and ironically. And so it’s with this book, “Forsaken”, that I finally get to pull out Ranganathan’s Rule Number 3 as I side eye the HELL out of it.

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Amish Vampire Fiction is not for me, but it may be for you. “Forsaken” is certainly unique, and while I didn’t enjoy it, that doesn’t mean that others won’t. Every book its reader. Just gotta keep repeating that.

Rating 2: I had high hopes for silly fun, but ultimately really didn’t enjoy this one. Some of the vampire stuff was pretty okay, but overall it didn’t do it for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Forsaken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Amish Mysteries”, and “Magic, Adventure, Romance”.

Find “Forsaken” at your library using WorldCat!