Book Review: Pretty Deadly

Pretty Deadly, Volume 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue Deconnick, art by Emma Rios

Image Comics, 2014

ISBN: 9781607069621

Available: Paperback, Kindle & comixology ebook

The story begins with the skeletal Bunny and Butterfly introducing us to an unusual little girl named Sissy the Vulture Girl, and her guardian, old man Fox. Sissy and Fox travel to different towns reciting the “The Song of Deathface Ginny”. which tells the story of The Mason, the love for his wife Beauty, and the tragedy that awaits her due to his carelessness with her. We learn through the tale that Deathface Ginny’s skills as gunslinger and sabre wielder are legendary, and that if she is set free, death awaits those who cross her path. As the book progresses, Sissy discovers there is much more to the story.

The artwork in this volume is absolutely gorgeous. The backgrounds are vast landscapes with the colours changing to illustrate where the action is taking place. The characters are uniquely rendered.

The storytelling is disjointed and there is a lot of information the reader gets in this first volume, but this method of storytelling it fits the material well. If you like Preacher or gritty westerns with supernatural elements, this may be a good title for you to check out. In addition, if you are looking to read or highlight something for the next Women in Horror Month, February 2018, this is definitely a title you need to pick up. Deconnick and Rios are an amazing team of women creators in the comic horror genre. Highly recommended.

Volume 1 collects Pretty Deadly issues #1-5.

 

Contains: a little bit of blood, a little bit of sexual content, nudity

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

 

Posted in comics, graphic novels | Tagged , | Comments Off on Book Review: Pretty Deadly

Book List: Breaking Cliches in Zombie Fiction

I was reading a blog post on realism in zombie fiction by Brian Parker, a writer of zombie fiction. Somewhere in the middle of it, he addressed the problem of the Mary Sue in zombie novels:

If you’re like me, you likely roll your eyes at the stereotypical protagonist in zombie fiction. You know the type, it’s some guy or girl—devastatingly handsome or beautiful, but overlooked by the rest of society—who works at a video game store. When the shit hits the fan, they come out of their shell and use their secret level-84 ninja skills to become the unlikely leader who saves their friends and/or family. Everyone in the group is an expert shot and every time they pull the trigger, heads explode. Sound familiar? More on that in a moment. Don’t forget the quintessential part of a typical zombie novel: The main character’s love interest is unattainable before the zombies appear, but once their competition is killed, the guy gets the girl and everyone lives happily ever after.

Luckily for us, there are zombie stories out there that successfully break, or at least subvert, these character and plot cliches.  Here are a few worth checking out.
 The List  by Michele Lee

This is a brief novella that can be read in one sitting, and you’ll want to do that. The story is told in first person by an unsympathetic protagonist with poor social skills who has a lot of built up resentments against the other residents of his apartment building. At the time of the story, he’s been holed up safely for quite some time, and has successfully avoided getting infected by the zombie virus. He is about to emerge and work his way through the building by taking out the now-zombified residents of the building, one at a time, in brutal and gory fashion. Despite the unsympathetic narrator, the voice is fantastic, and there is plenty of dark humor. In the interests of full disclosure, Michele is a reviewer for Monster Librarian and the editor for our companion blog Reading Bites, but that doesn’t affect my recommendation here.

 Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux

We’ve previously reviewed Allison Hewitt Is Trapped. I’m not going to claim realism here, but I also wouldn’t call Allison a Mary Sue. She’s a graduate student who works in a bookstore (no video games here– each chapter is named for a book) and is trapped in the break room with the rest of the bookstore staff and a couple of customers, with no apparent rescue in sight,  blogging about the experience on a miraculously still-existing military Internet network. I find Allison’s ability to wield a fire ax as a deadly weapon, without prior experience, to be unrealistic, but even since its publication in 2011, there aren’t enough books in this subgenre with women who are snarky, resourceful, save themselves, and can strangle their enemy with a laptop cord. The story doesn’t end exactly unhappily for her, but there’s a companion book that takes place many years later, and the zombies still are ravaging pretty much everything, so I wouldn’t say it’s a happy ending either.

 

 Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Never be afraid to check out YA fiction– there are some powerful works out there. Ashes is one of these. The main character and narrator is Alex, a teenage girl with terminal brain cancer and considerable camping, hiking, and general survival skills, who decides to run away to the forests of Michigan to spend her last days. While she’s there, an electromagnetic impulse hits, kills millions of people, destroys communications and technology, and turns the majority of children and teenagers into flesh-eating zombies. She is joined by Ellie, a spoiled and obnoxious nine year old who is orphaned early on, and Tom, a soldier she encounters in the forest. Oh my gosh, this is a dark, brutal, and desperate read. Anyone who thinks YA is light and fluffy can think again. I also think it’s a very realistic portrayal. Alex doesn’t suddenly discover she has super survival skills– her skills are a big part of the reason she escapes the EMP in the first place. Tom doesn’t mystically discover he has weapons skills– he’s a trained soldier. And nothing is more realistic than an obnoxious nine year old. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I really recommend it.

Posted in booklist, zombies | Comments Off on Book List: Breaking Cliches in Zombie Fiction

Book List: 6 Great YA Dystopian Novels

Book List: 6 Great YA Dystopian Novels

Even though the media-generated excitement over teen dystopias like the ones in The Hunger Games and (to a lesser degree) Divergent, has died down a bit, anyone living through the past year can see that dystopian fiction is still terrifyingly relevant. Some days it really doesn’t feel like we’re all that far from living through The Handmaid’s Tale, and George R.R. Martin’s early story “And Death His Legacy” is so prescient that it made me shiver.

A lot of dystopian novels have a depressing world view: the main character’s attempt to change things is thwarted, and, even if that character survives intact, the world they live in doesn’t really alter (Winston, in 1984, is one of the most broken characters ever).

What is different about most YA dystopias is that there’s an individual there who starts to question the status quo, and acts to change it– not without some horrifying struggles, but usually, they’re successful at either overturning the system or escaping to establish one they hope will be better. In the recently released book on children’s and YA horror, Reading in the Dark, there is an essay suggesting that YA dystopian novels aren’t necessarily about individual self-discovery: they are more about teens figuring out their responsibilities to society. I think it’s both. Seeing that there is a possibility to change things, and that it could be one person, a teen not all that different from them, who instigates that change, makes YA dystopian fiction a literature of hope. It makes me optimistic for the future.

That being said, here are some excellent YA dystopias that start with a (usually) pretty ordinary kid chosen to perpetuate the system, who ends up creating a better world.

 

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

You can’t go wrong with this Newbery Award winner that tells the story of Jonas, living in a future utopian society, who is chosen, in a ceremony with his peers where they are all assigned jobs for their adult lives, to be the Receiver of Memories, the one person allowed to know the memories of the past in human history. It’s not as action-oriented as Divergent, but packs a much more powerful and memorable emotional punch. The Giver is part of a four-book series, but the first is the best and definitely stands alone. There is a movie based on the book that was released a few years ago. Be aware that euthanasia and eugenics are important to the plot, and part of why the book is so heartbreaking.

 

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

This is the first book in the Razorland trilogy (which now also includes two novellas), and it’s quite a bit more graphic than the first two books, probably on par with Divergent. In yet another post-apocalyptic underground world (one decidedly more primitive than Ember) Deuce goes through her naming ceremony and becomes a Hunter in her enclave, a sort of tribal society. As a Hunter, Deuce is supposed to find and catch food and rid the tunnels around her enclave of Freaks, ravening, cannibalistic creatures. Although she’s a believer in the way things work in her enclave, her exposure to a wider world and a partner who’s not so convinced lead her to question the actions of her leaders.

 

 

 

 The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The city of Ember is an underground city built as a last refuge in a world about to be annihilated by nuclear weapons. Two hundred years later, everything, from food to electricity, is running out. After the ceremony where Lina and Doon, along with their peers, are assigned their future careers, the two of them trade places, and discover a puzzling mystery they must solve to save the residents of Ember from darkness. This has more action than The Giver, and more of a mystery at its center, and is a compelling read even for those of us well over the target age range. The City of Ember is also part of a series, and all of them are great reads. It has been made into a movie already, with Bill Murray as the corrupt mayor. and I really enjoyed it.

 

 

 

  Across The Universe by Beth Revis

The first book in a trilogy, this science fiction thriller is told from the point of view of  two teenagers– Amy, the only person not specifically chosen for a role in settlement of a new planet, and Elder, whose future leadership of the spaceship Godspeed was chosen early in his life. There’s mystery, cloning, genetic and hormonal manipulation, general lying and betrayal, and a surprising amount of action given that this all takes place in a closed environment. In some ways, it reminded me very much of The Giver. There’s suicide, near-rape, and euthanasia in this book, among other things, although I think Revis handles it all pretty well. The target audience for Divergent should enjoy this.

 

 

 

Legend by Marie Lu

June is the elite of the elite, being groomed for a position high up in the military in a dystopian society that’s more or less under military rule. Day is a rebel trying to undermine it.  What could possibly go wrong when their lives intersect?
 

 

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Here’s one that’s interesting because almost everyone is chosen, eventually. It’s not wanting to be chosen that makes Tally stick out. Or, to make it more complicated, it’s wanting to be chosen but having to pretend she doesn’t want to be chosen and standing out as special when she wants to blend in. And then changing her mind. And changing it again. While it could stand alone, I think, it’s a good thing it’s part of a series because I have no clue where it’s going to end up. Westerfeld pretty much turns the tropes on their heads.

 

 

 

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared with a different introduction at Musings of the Monster Librarian on March 3, 2015.

Posted in booklist | Tagged | Comments Off on Book List: 6 Great YA Dystopian Novels

Book Review: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls, Volume 1 (Issues #1-5) by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Cliff Chiang

Image Comics, 2015

ISBN: 9781632156747

Available: Library binding, paperback, Kindle edition and comiXology ebook

Paper Girls begins with a strange dream that Erin, the new papergirl, is having, just before she has to awaken for her route. We discover that that date is November 1, 1988. Halloween is almost over for some costumed teenagers when they see Erin on her own. She becomes their target, until the other papergirls (Mac, Tiffany, and KJ) show up, and take matters into their own hands. The girls partner up, two and two, in order to finish their routes in peace, each pair traveling with walkie-talkies in case the teenagers show up again. It should have been smooth sailing from there, but then the girls chase robbers into an abandoned building and find a strange piece of machinery that instantly transports them to another time. Things are very different in their neighborhood after that. Adults speaking a strange language; aggressive flying reptiles; people disappearing; humanoid teenagers who can only communicate with the papergirls through a translation stone; and meeting a very different Erin after she emerges from the time machine, are just a handful of the strange things that the papergirls encounter in the first volume.

 

I have to admit that this is my first exposure to Vaughn’s work, as I have not read Saga yet. All I have to go by is my first reading of Vaughn’s storytelling, and I enjoyed it. That said, I have consulted with a few colleagues about Paper Girls as compared to Saga, and, while they enjoyed the story, it didn’t meet up with their expectations. The biggest complaint was that the story was too disjointed and the reader doesn’t get much backstory of the papergirls. I do agree, but I still think this is a good story. One friend also indicated it was a slow burn, but pretty rewarding on the last panel of the book. The first volume ended on a great cliffhanger, too. I’m looking forward to reading Volume 2.  A note: as this is set in the 1980s, there is some offensive language specifically regarding the LGBTQ community. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

Posted in comics, graphic novels | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Book Review: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Cliff Chiang

Book Review: Demon Freaks by J.R.R.R. Hardison

Demon Freaks by J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison

Fiery Seas Publishing, 2017

ISBN-13: 978-1-946143-16-7

Available: Paperback, Kindle edition

 

Jim Hardison’s Demon Freaks pits high schoolers on the eve of their SAT exams against wicked would-be wizards and monsters, with the fate of the world at stake.  The story is written with irony and humor from the viewpoint of teenagers.  The protagonists are members of an ad hoc school band, including twin boys who don’t look or think alike.  The drummer, who is the low-achieving son of a high-achieving family, is the comic foil. The female member is a “brain” who is happiest taking a shower.

The night before the SAT, the band members plan to meet to jam and cram, but are caught in the middle of a deadly rivalry between two groups of elderly, evil golfers, the Servants of Darkness and the Golfers’ Association.   The Servants of Darkness are led by the teens’ sarcastic, vindictive English teacher, while the Golfers follow his power-hungry brother, who looks like a twisted Santa Claus.  Both groups want to possess a magical dagger that traps souls, communicates telepathically with its victims, and can control their minds. Think of the Ring of Power in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

Each group plans to use the dagger for a human sacrifice, in order to open the gates to Hell and release a powerful demon that they hope will help them dominate the world.  Two of the teens are captured, possibly to be the human sacrifices.  The rest of their friends, along with commandos from a clandestine division of the McDonald’s Corporation called McODD (McDonald’s Occult Dangers Division) fight the Servantsthe Golfers and Teethheads (scaly, fish-headed monsters with hundreds of teeth) in tunnels and chambers under the golf course.

The story is told in an engaging, fast-paced, tongue–in-cheek style.  The teenagers are quirky, but discover hidden talents that help them outwit the adults.  The adults are caricatures of hubris and greed.  The plot will appeal to children and teenagers.  The monsters are scary, but not frightening.  The violence and gore are mild.  The author has written another novel, an epic fantasy Fish Wielder. Recommended.

 

Contains: Not applicable.

 

Reviewed by Robert D. Yee

Posted in horror, YA books | Tagged , | Comments Off on Book Review: Demon Freaks by J.R.R.R. Hardison

Groot #1

download (1)Groot and Rocket are hitchhiking across the galaxy for a visit to Earth. Rocket is only there for support, of course, and witty repartee with our limited-vocabulary hero. Groot wants to visit Earth because he’s never been, well, as a tourist. But along the way their ride breaks down, there are (endangered) space sharks, alien invaders, terrorists, and bounty hunters. But as Groot says, it’s not the destination so much as the journey, right?

This is quite the fun comic with hopeful (near hippy) Groot and bitter, short-fused Rocket trapped in space. A lot of other Marvel comics focus on Earth, here writers get to play in space, literally since these characters are a sci-fi Abbot and Costello. There’s plenty of amusement and imagination fuel for younger kids and older. Recommended, 10 and up.

Posted in comics | Tagged | Comments Off on Groot #1

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is set in the 80s, a time of big hair, awesome music, and the Satanic Panic. Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang have been best friends since they were thrown together at Abby’s tenth birthday party. Now in high school, they are experiencing the awkwardness and discomfort of growing into teenagers, and their friendship is changing.

After a night of dropping acid with a few other friends goes bad, Gretchen goes missing for the entire night. When she reappears the next day, acting strangely, Abby seems to be the only one to notice.  As bizarre things start to happen to people, Abby, making her observations in the context of the 1980s fears of demonic possession that could happen to anyone, comes to the conclusion that her best friend must be demonically possessed; that something happened in the woods the night they took LSD. What other option could there be for Gretchen turning on her best friend? Unsurprisingly, no one believes her, except a bodybuilding evangelist who turns out to be fighting his own demons.

The story is narrated by Abby in first person, so we only see her point of view. As a teenager dealing with significant life events, changing hormones, emotional, physical, and psychological challenges, and a brain potentially altered by her experience with LSD, she is not necessarily a reliable narrator. In fact, several adults accuse Abby of being a bad influence on Gretchen, whose behavior changed after the girls’ shared drug experience. Abby’s own behavior is erratic, as well: she plans and executes a midnight break-in at Gretchen’s house.  While My Best Friend’s Exorcismcould be read as a straightforward tale of demonic possession, it also can be read as an examination of a psychological breakdown. Hendrix has a talent for description: the description of Gretchen’s kitchen during Abby’s break-in as smelling of mold and old food, with temperature so cold she can see her breath, is so specific that it is easy to believe that Abby is giving us an accurate picture of events.

Overall, I think My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a great read. For anyone who grew up in the 80s, especially around the time of the infamous Satanic Panic, this book will bring back memories. One of the best things about this book is the chapter titles: if you guessed that they are titles of popular 80s songs, you would be correct. Admittedly, some of this may go over the heads of younger readers if they aren’t familiar with 80s culture, but for those of us who grew up in that time period, you will love it. Recommended.

Contains: drug use, blood

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

Posted in book reviews, horror, paranormal/supernatural | Comments Off on My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Hexed: The Harlot and the Thief volume 2 by Michael Alan Nelson

downloadLucifer is settling into the changes in her career (she steals magical items for humanity’s safety), like the fact that she accidentally turned her adoptive mother’s intern into a necromancer and now has to teach her about the underworlds. As the trio try to begin to recover from the devastating fire that burned through Val’s galley (and let a bunch of artifacts loose on the city) Lucifer also gets an offer of employment from Madame Cymbaline, the mysterious pseudo-god who burned the gallery in the first place.

And payment is removing the Harlot’s hex from Lucifer, and killing the Harlot herself. Lucifer isn’t stupid though, and knows that all deals with devils, even the ones that seem to want to help you, come at a great cost.

But then tragedy strikes and intern Raina is left alone to try to save Lucifer…if she can be saved.

I love love love this series. The sassiness, the art, the imagination. I love all the characters, bad and good. It’s a very female-centric story without being overtly anti male. It’s a less traumatized, fresher Constantine.

For comic fans looking for something outside the realm of super heroes and mega team ups I definitely recommend peeking in at the Hexed books.

Posted in comics, graphic novels, paranormal/supernatural | Tagged | Comments Off on Hexed: The Harlot and the Thief volume 2 by Michael Alan Nelson

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

High school junior Wylie has always had anxiety issues, but since her mother’s death four months earlier she is unable to even leave the house. Her father, a researcher in emotional intelligence, unsure of how to handle her problems, buries himself even further in his work. Cassie, her best friend for six years, has exhibited increasingly destructive behaviors, and due to an argument the previous month, they are no longer speaking to each other. Wylie is sinking further and further into isolation.

When Cassie goes missing, she breaks that isolation by texting Wylie with cryptic directions and demanding that Wylie team up with Cassie’s boyfriend, Jasper. Although Wylie dislikes and distrusts Jasper, and her friendship with Cassie has been seriously damaged,  Wylie overcomes her anxiety, agoraphobia, and suspicion of Jasper in order to track Cassie down. From then on, their journey only gets stranger and stranger; over and over, it turns out that things are not exactly what they seem. The story races along so fast, and with so many twists, that readers will find it hard to keep up, and impossible to put down. In many ways, I was reminded of Gone Girl, although the context and storyline are very different.

I found the major characters to be implausible, however. Wylie is the first person narrator, and she describes herself  believably as having an anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. Her attempts to cope with the combination of grief, anxiety, agoraphobia, and anger are the most solid, realistic, and overwhelming parts of the book. Her portrait is so well drawn that I couldn’t buy her ability to break through her anxiety and agoraphobia and put herself in an uncertain situation with an unfamiliar person she doesn’t know or trust in a short time. Central to the author’s concept for the book is that anxiety and emotional intelligence are closely tied together, but research on the topic shows that the exact opposite is true, and the actual story doesn’t really bear that out. While there are times when Wylie successfully reads someone’s emotions, there are many times when she doesn’t (in fact, many of the plot points depend on her misinterpretations). Jasper is practically a stereotype, he’s so predictable and two-dimensional. From the very beginning, Cassie does not seem like much of a friend– she’s an admitted liar, manipulative, and frequently expects Wylie to step in and “save ” her in difficult situations– and in this case, she also puts the two people who care most about her, Jasper and Wylie, in considerable danger. Wylie is not exactly a reliable narrator, and the events are so unlikely that I almost wonder if all of this is in her head.

Despite the implausibility of the characters and their motivations, and the questionable premise that anxiety is a result of emotional intelligence, if you decide to suspend your disbelief, you are in for a wild ride, and, given the adrenaline-inducing ending, should get prepared for another one.

Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.

Contains: suicide

Posted in book reviews, thriller, YA books | Comments Off on The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

Gotham Academy volume 2: Calamity by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher

25241707There is a lot going on at Gotham Academy. We already know that it is linked by tunnels to the ruins of Arkham Asylum. We know Killer Croc was haunting its tunnels. We know Headmaster Hammer knows something. And we know Olive Silverlock is on Batman’s watch list, so carefully watched, in fact, that in the last issue he enrolled his son, Damien, to investigate her and other goings ons.

Gotham Academy might as well be a Hellmouth for all the big bads, ghost, mutants, and were-things wandering it halls. It’s not just the evil mastermind plots of villains, though. There are smaller furies and betrayals, like the matter of a sabotaged (or maybe cursed) school play.

Some things are more world-shaking, like Olive’s dealing with the death of her mother and the strange spectre who keeps haunting her. But Olive’s friends are determined to help, come spooky asylum, or kidnapping, or mysterious fires breaking out around Olive.

While there are moments that feel set up just for cameos, I really did enjoy Damien and Maps teaming up. Maps drives this narrative with stubborn geeky enthusiasm and happiness. While Olive is understandably morose and anxious without Maps as a counterbalance this series would fall flat.

The art is still fabulous and poignant. I’m looking forward to following this story and seeing where Olive and Maps (and Katherine. Can we please get more inclusion of Katherine? Her story has so much potential!) go.

Posted in book reviews, comics, graphic novels | Tagged , | Comments Off on Gotham Academy volume 2: Calamity by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher