Readers’ Advisory: The Ghosts of Christmas Past. Madelynne Ellis

*Parts of this RA post first appeared on my Goodreads page.*
I was pleasantly surprised to find this installment in the series. A Gentleman’s Wager was my first foray into stories about polyamory, and I’ve since been fascinated with well-written, nuanced stories of poly relationships. Phantasmagoria is still one of my favorite books of all time, because it really allowed me a space to be incredibly turned on and incredibly invested in these characters relationship, a style of relationship that I had never encountered before. In fact, I love the entire series. So much so, that I have them both in print and e-book. This story is more of a character study of Vaughan and Lucerne. Of course, Bella features. This story, much like life, wouldn’t be the same without her, which is something both Vaughan and Lucerne come to terms with in this entry.
Bella, Vaughan, and Lucerne still have a lot of growing to do, but I was heartened to see  Vaughan finally admit, out loud, that he loves Bella.  Vaughan has been my favorite character. I’ve been moved by his struggle to express his love for Lucerne, tolerate his and Lucerne’s need for Bella, and walk the ridiculously thin line between being a notorious rakehell but alive and hanging from the gallows for being gay. Since Phantasmagoria, it seems that he’s allowed himself to be softer, recognized those parts of him that were cruel in response to society and not necessarily inherent character traits. He’s insecure and jealous and lashes out because of it, a fact which is very clear in this story.
He loves Lucerne, deeply and desperately so. But it’s only these last two months without him, I think, that have allowed him to see clearly. He was blinded by his obsession with Lucerne, so consumed with pursuing him for eight years, that when he finally got a chance at a relationship with him, he spent the time afraid of losing him. Then, confronted with Bella, and Lucerne’s affection for her, he struggled. He saw her as an obstruction, at first, then as a necessary means to an end. He tolerates her, though enjoys her passion and lust, only because being with Lucerne necessitates being with her. After two years, though, he was not ready to admit that he was falling for Bella, causing all sorts of strife within the relationship, especially after 1789 Christmas, in this story where he admits that he’s afraid (he doesn’t use that word) that Bella is only tolerating his presence and relationship with Lucerne, and if Lucerne marries her, Bella will oust him, at worst, and, at best, only allow ‘supervised’ play time between them. Something that is just not true.
I am more than a little annoyed at Lucerne, but I see where the time away from Bella and Vaughan, especially, has allowed him space to breathe and come to terms with, not only his love for Bella, but his love for Vaughan as well, and how intimately intertwined his feelings for them are. He’s beginning to be more honest with himself. He’s definitely the more bisexual of the two gentlemen, but his clinging to Bella was more a response to society and what he should do as a gentlemen who has ruined the reputation of a lady of good standing than a rejection of everything good he could have with Vaughan, though there is some of that as well. In this story, we learn more of the first incident that led to the action of Phantasmagoria. I feel for Lucerne, truly, but I really need him to step up. I need him, in the last novel, to really commit to advocating for himself. He doesn’t lack confidence in any area but in his dealings with Bella and Vaughan. We see him, in this story, trying to get some of his own back and, ultimately failing because he is still wrestling with the social mores that tell him being gay is unconscionable and marriage is necessary.
There’s some internalized homophobia there as well. It has been clear throughout Lucerne’s development. Lucerne is never quite all in with Vaughan and Bella. Maybe its the fear of death? There’s a moment Vaughan alludes to in this story of the day Lucerne admitted, without faltering, that he had feelings for Vaughan. A fleeting moment, where Lucerne felt brave enough to say it aloud. It’s something he shies away from. You see it all throughout AGW and this story. He loves Vaughan. He wants Vaughan. He fears Vaughan and everything that love and desire entail. The fear, though well founded, has to be overcome. Not to say that he should declare it from Buckingham Palace. I don’t want him dead. But, and this story takes some steps towards this, he shouldn’t be ashamed of loving a man nor afraid to admit it to his partners.
Bella, to her credit, has always been the most honest and communicative of  the three. She has never shied away from what she wants, in the bedroom and in her relationship with the boys. She is brutally honest with herself, recognizing that Vaughan will never love her the way she loves him, the way he loves Lucerne. She is committed to Vaughan, though. She’s all in, unless and until he decides he doesn’t want her. There’s some annoyance with her too. It comes across most especially here. During a scene with Vaughan, and involving a glass dildo, she’s goes on a rant about how he never takes her “as nature intended”, meaning PIV intercourse. She complains that since they are estranged from Lucerne, there is no reason that Vaughan should avoid it. In Phantasmagoria, it is established that that particular brand of sex is Lucerne’s responsibility. Vaughan, though, doesn’t enjoy PIV intercourse nearly as much as anal, so he doesn’t do it. What annoys me, though, is Bella’s use of the phrase “as nature intended.” She has a whole paragraph of internal thought about missing it, despite Vaughan keeping her well satisfied otherwise. WTF, Bella?!
There is hope, though. Lucerne misses them terribly. He dreams of them; cannot truly imagine a fulfilling life without them. Vaughan is, slowly, coming to terms with his feelings for Bella and, vaguely, recognizes the negative effects of his single-minded pursuit of Lucerne. Bella hasn’t really dealt with what it meant to her that Lucerne left them. In fact, she does a fairly good job of not talking or thinking about him, which I hope will become a major part of The Serpent’s Kiss. The three of them really need to talk, not just fall into bed (or the rug or the great hall table or the breakfast room sideboard or the sitting room settee). Lucerne needs to set boundaries, Vaughan needs to be honest about his feelings, and Bella needs to admit that Lucerne walking out on them hurt her.

 

This felt like an interlude, important to character development, but not the main story, much like Indiscretions. Oh, and it was too short. I would happily read many more stories about these three and their friends, who I’m hoping make a return. It would be really interesting to see Emma, Lyle, and Darleston (of Her Husband’s Lover) interact with Bella, Vaughan, and Lucerne. What would that look like, these six people navigating a society that says their love is unnatural and punishable by death, literally? Would they figure out the dynamics of the other?
I’m still invested in these characters, love Madelynne Ellis to pieces, and I eagerly await The Serpent’s Kiss. 

Readers’ Advisory: Mouthful of Forevers. Clementine von Radics

Quick Facts

Author: Clementine von Radics

Published 2015 Andrews McMeel Publishing 9781449470791

112 pages $16.99US, $19.99CAN

Available in print and eBook

Poetry

Why I Read It

During my end of fiscal year shopping spree at my library earlier in the summer, I asked my friends what they thought a library needed. One thing mentioned was more and diverse poetry. I went through our poetry collection, and while it is not sparse by any means, it did need some updating and retrofitting. I bought all the poetry that looked good, and even some that didn’t look good, because who am I to decide what someone will like or not like. I bought African poets, African-American poets, white poets, celebrity poets, former sex worker poets, tumblr poets, Asian poets, and many others. As a lover of poetry, I couldn’t resist trying to read all of this new poetry I bought for the library.

TLL’s Tag

Love and life are the strangest things.

The Rundown

A collection of poems chronicling the life, loves, and heartbreak of one woman.

Here’s what I think

It usually takes me a day, one sitting even, to read a book of poetry. As much as I can, I try not to stop too often to reflect on each individual poem, because I would rather examine my feelings to the piece as a whole first, then go back and choose my favorites. I couldn’t do that with Mouthful of Forevers. Every poem felt real in a visceral way, and I could not casually go on to the next as if my life had not just shifted a bit at the reading. I should not have started reading this at work, because I was in tears. I was completely and utterly destroyed in ways that I’m not sure I can describe right now. In 112 pages, and though I cannot relate to everything von Radics writes about, it felt as if my life had been mined to fuel someone else’ creative genius.

I have some favorite poems from this  collection. One of them is the most famous titular poem. I can see why it has inspired wedding vows and tattoos. It, like all of von Radics’ poems, is powerful.

Final decision

Prepare to be completely destroyed.

5Q,5P

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author tumblr: http://clementinevonradics.tumblr.com/

tongue tied magazine review & interview: http://tonguetiedmag.com/post/119979560217/book-review-poet-interview-mouthful-of

hooligan magazine interview, page 16: http://issuu.com/hooliganmag/docs/issue3

Readers’ Advisory 2: Fantastic Women. Rob Spillman, ed.

Quick Facts

Editor: Rob Spillman

Published 2011 Tin House $18.95US

262pp. 9781935639107

Short stories, surreal, fantasy

Why I Read It

I bought this book sight unseen. I read no reviews. I knew nothing about the authors. It was the jacket copy. In it, Kafka, Mary Shelley, the Brothers Grimm, and Angela Carter are all mentioned. I read and enjoyed The Metamorphosis. The Brothers Grimm versions of popular fairy tales have always been my favorites. I’ve been interested in Angela Carter since hearing an undergrad presentation on her and the roles of women and monsters. Who hasn’t read Frankenstein? So, I got it.

TLL’s Tag

Prepare to be wierded out in the best possible way.

The Rundown

This is an anthology of 18 fantasy stories. Each set in a world not unlike our own, the stories showcase the lasting allure of using the fantastic to gain insight into the real.

Here’s what I think

When I first read Fantastic Women, it took me quite a while. I knew going in that I would be stretching myself as a reader. Many things went right over my head. Even now, after multiple readings, I still don’t understand everything that happens. But that’s the beauty of storytelling. I don’t have to understand everything. That opens me, and other readers, up to multiple understandings. Every time I read this collection, I get something new out of it. So what if I still don’t understand what a dickmare is or I can’t wrap my head around a drive-through house. I do know that it is impolite and unwise to criticize others, because they may end up your family. I do know that a selkie can never be truly happy on land, even if she does have children. 

One more thing I know after having read this book. I have yet to find a surrealist short story that tops Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” but these ladies certainly come close.

Final decision

5Q–Hard to imagine it better written

3P–Read it because the book club was reading it

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Titles

Women of Darkness II

The Penguin book of Modern Fantasy by Women

“The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Appeal Factors

Slightly disturbing, short stories, nonlinear

Book talk ideas

Drive through house p.225

Klepto seagulls p.197

Selkie cubs p.171

People soup p.163

Book discussion questions

1) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2) How did you imagine the Dickmare?

3) Who/what were the Wilds?

Clues to the Future

Fantasy, surrealism, sublime, short stories, Fantastic Women, disturbing, creative, the Wilds, people soup, the dickmare, klepto seagulls

Awards and Lists

NA

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Publishers Weekly Review: http://www.publishersweekly.com/9781935639107

Mostly Fiction Review: http://bookreview.mostlyfiction.com/2011/fantastic-women-edited-by-rob-spillman/

Tor Review: http://www.tor.com/2011/09/13/genre-in-the-mainstream-fantastic-women/

Readers’ Advisory 2: Zombillenium 1:Gretchen & 2:Human Resources. Arthur de Pins

Quick Facts

Author/Illustrator: Arthur De Pins

Published 2013, 2014 Nantier, Beall, Minoustchine Publishing Inc. $14.99

46pp, 9781561637348. 49pp, 9781561638505.

Graphic novel, horror, humor

Available inprint

Why I Read It

The cover art. The cover art. The size. The cover art. If you think I’m joking, ask my mother. When I brought these home from the library, she took one look and said, “You picked those because of the covers, didn’t you?” Yep. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the covers looked amazing, so I had to know. Also, I found it in the adult graphic novel section.

TLL’s Tag 

Even the dead need jobs in this economy.

The Rundown 

Zombillenium, an amusement park that employs the undead, is on the brink of ruin. Fewer tickets are being sold and fewer people visit each year. The Board is scrambling to keep the lights on. CEO Francis Von Bloodt is away from the park looking for a runaway mummy. Once found, they are on their back to the park when the hit and runover a human, Aurelian Zahner. He’s dead on impact, and officially part of the workforce of Zombillenium. When Von Bloodt and the Director of HR, a werewolf, fight over the type of undead Zahner will be, they bite him multiple times, turning him into a creature that is both and neither, a demon. He becomes the new star of the park

When you can only recruit dead people, though, things get a bit difficult.

Here’s what I think

It could be the artwork. It could be the story. I’m not sure which is stronger in this series. The artwork is what hooked me originally, then I got into the story. I’m genuinely curious about how the series will play out. Does anybody find out that Gretchen is the daughter of the boss? Do they already know? What exactly is Aurelian? Like, what is the name of the variety of demon he has become? Where is his wife and why did she cheat on him? This early in the series, it is only natura to have many questions and no answers. What I do know, though, is that graphic novel fans should give this series a try.

Final decision

I had a lot of fun with these two, and sparked interest at my library by being the first to check them out.

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Authors

Joe Hill

Steve Ditko

Titles

Macanudo, Liniers

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight, Alex de Campi

Appeal Factors

Engaging, bold, detailed, offbeat, fast-paced, charming

Book talk ideas

Gretchen

Aurelian Zahner

Zombillenium

Book discussion questions

1) Why does Zombillenium only employ dead people?

2) What do you think Von Bloodt has in store for Mrs. Matauzier?

3) Did you suspect that Gretchen was whom she is revealed to be or was it a surprise?

4) What’s your favorite part so far?

Clues to the Future

digital art, graphic novel, sequential art, Zombillenium, amusement parks, horror, humor, monster story, Arthur de Pins, daughter of the devil, Gretchen, Aurelian Zahner

Awards and Lists

Gretchen: 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site: http://www.arthurdepins.com/

Animation Insider interview: http://www.animationinsider.com/2015/03/arthur-de-pins/

NY Journal of Books Review: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/zombillenium-gretchen

Comics Bulletin Review: http://comicsbulletin.com/review-zombillenium-perfect-halloween-sitcom/

Review quotes:

“The art is wonderful with an excellent use of color and expressions that are just exaggerated enough to kick it into the cartoony realm. ”

Sequential Tart

“DePins artwork…is quite good. It’s heavily digital, but full of unique verve, making it rather eye catching, particularly the covers.”

Coverless Reviews

Readers’ Advisory 2: The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Faith Erin Hicks

Quick Facts

Author: Faith Erin Hicks

Colors: Cris Peter

Published 2013 Dark Horse Books.$16.99US, $19.99CAN

106PP. 9781616550844

Graphic novel, humor, action-adventure, superhero

Available in print

Why I Read It

Superhero Girl’s art caught my eye consistently. I’m like a magpie, only instead of shiny objects, I’m attracted to bright colors. The dot style made it look like a classic comic book, so I had to have it. I imagined there would be some POWs and BANGs. I couldn’t wait to read it.

TLL’s Tag

Are you really a superhero if everyone knows your secret identity and you have no arch nemesis?

The Rundown

Superhero Girl was born with superpowers. She can leap buildings smaller than eleven stories, lift objects ten times her size, and has laser beam eyes. What she can’t do is fly, nor does she have an arch nemesis, and really, the crime level in her town is so low that she only has to glare at a criminal to make him stop. Originally a web comic, the graphic novel is the first compilation of the comic strips.

Here’s what I think

At first, I didn’t realize that Superhero Girl was a web comic. It became clearer, though, as I went further into the book. After a particular arc, there would be a break or a seemingly unimportant panel that didn’t make sense in light of the previous comics. It is a much simpler superhero story than we are used to nowadays, without all the complicated back stories, the multiple universes and different character/story arcs.

I truly enjoyed the brightness of the colors. It can only be assumed that the original strips were done in black and white, but the colors really bring the story to life. Also, there are a few POWs and BANGs thrown in for good measure. It was nice to see the everyday superhero struggles that we don’t see in the more popular comics, no job, running out of money, roommate problems, sibling rivalry. Ok, that last one plays out quite a bit, but still.

Final decision

It was fun and quick. While easy to see where it works better in the original, web comic format, the change in format did not detract from the story.

3Q–Readable, without serious defects.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Authors

Caanan Grall

Hope Larsen

Corinne Mucha

Titles

Strong Female Protagonist, Brennan Lee Mulligan

JLA, Mark Waid

Civil War, Mark Millar

Appeal Factors

Funny, offbeat, witty, engaging, nonlinear, colorful, bold, sarcastic

Book talk ideas

Kevin

Skeptical Guy

Bear with a Monocle

Book discussion questions

1) Is Skeptical Guy right? Can a superhero only be born from some tragic past?

2) Will Superhero Girl ever get a job?

3) What is Superhero Girl’s real name?

4) Have you ever been overshadowed by a sibling in the way Superhero Girl is by Kevin?

Clues to the Future

graphic novel, sequential art, online comic, Superhero Girl, Faith Erin Hicks, King Ninja, Kevin, Skeptical Guy, Bear with a Monocle

Awards and Lists

2014 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens

2014 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site: http://www.faitherinhicks.com/

Paste Magazine review: http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/02/the-adventures-of-superhero-girl.html

Nerdspan review: http://www.nerdspan.com/graphic-novel-review-the-adventures-of-superhero-girl/

DCPL interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BrHY38pMwI

Comic Book Resources interview: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=46985

Readers’ Advisory 2: A Matter of Class. Mary Balogh

Quick Facts

Author: Mary Balogh

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Published 2009 Brilliance Audio. $19.99

4 discs, 4 hours and 10 minutes. 9781441826374

Regency romance

Available in print, eBook, and audio

Why I Read It

Truthfully, I needed something short, that I could read in one sitting. Balogh has been a favorite author of mine ever since I read the Bedwyn series. It always surprises me how much she’s written over the years. I’d never heard of this little story until I was perusing the audiobook section at the library. It fit the criteria of being short, and it had the added benefit of being one of my favorite subgenres, so I knew I would be able to finish it. Moreover, it is not often that one or more of the main characters in a Regency romance is not of the ton. My boxes were checked. {Has anyone else noticed that the majority of my books come from the library?}

TLL’s Tag

The Ashtons and the Masons were not friends, yet circumstances dictated Annabelle Ashton marry Reginald Mason or risk ostracism.

The Rundown

Years ago, Bernard Mason, nouveau riche from coal mining, extended the hand of friendship to his neighbor, William Ashton, the Earl of Havercroft. Havercroft would have none of that and declared the Mason household anathema to his own. Mason, insulted and a little hurt, declared the same. The families and household servants are not to even glance at the other in church.

Annabelle Ashton and Reginald Mason don’t mean to disobey their fathers. They meet on the banks of the river that separates their family properties at the tender ages of five and eight, respectively. What follows is a love story that lasts over prolonged absences, secret meetings, and an elopement scandal.

Annabelle and Reginald have known each other all their lives, became friends and lovers, how could they not get married? Under normal circumstances, if their fathers weren’t so bent on ignoring the other, they would be married with the full support of both families. But the enmity between Bernard and Havercroft throws a wrench in that dream. The reality is that the two must come up with a convoluted way to be together, which includes having Annabelle cause so public scandal that the entire ton will be talking about it for weeks.

Reggie’s and Anna’s goal is to make their parents think the idea for marriage is their own, when in reality Reggie and Anna planned it that way.

Here’s what I think

I have to admit, I began to suspect that all was not as it seemed with the first flashback chapter. Reggie and Anna were childhood friends. He gave her her second, but most memorable kiss. It was only logical that they get married in the land of romance novels. Reggie and Anna, though, play their parts well in the present. One does not suspect from their first interactions that they are in love with each other and have conspired to be together. One does, however, wonder why Anna would be so public in her elopement. This is also a giveaway that there is something more to the story. Why, when hieing oneself off to Gretna Green, would one stop for a snack in a packed, well-known establishment unless one wanted to get caught?

The interactions, past and present, between Reggie and Anna are well done. I liked seeing their progression from friends to lovers to fake stranger/enemies. The dialogue was refreshing as well. One would never have guessed that Reggie knew the answer to his question about Anna’s virginity. It was cute, though, that he cared enough about her to consistently want her to look her best, resulting in him teasing her to get a reaction from her.

It can be difficult to fit plausible character development in a short space, and this story is no different. The almost complete shift in characterizations for Havercroft and Mason felt sudden. While the reader never doubts both fathers’ love for his child, their very macho-ness seems undercut by their final scenes. Odd.

Short, sweet, and with a clever twist, A Matter of Class is Balogh at her best.

Final decision

There’s a reason Balogh is a best-selling author. Her Regencies are unmatched.

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Authors

Jo Beverley

Stephanie Laurens

Kasey Michaels

Titles

The Husband List, Janet Evanovich

The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Lauren Willig

Whitney, My Love, Judith McNaught

Appeal Factors

Amusing, upbeat, Regency, witty, richly detailed

Book talk ideas

Feuding families

Annabelle’s “elopement”

Reggie’s talk with his father

Book discussion questions

1) Were you reminded of any other stories while reading A Matter of Class?

2) When did you figure it out?

3) Do you believe Lady Havercroft and Mrs. Mason will become good friends?

4) Did your opinion of any of the characters change throughout the story?

Clues to the Future

Regency romance, Mary Balogh, Anabelle Ashton, Reginald Mason, childhood friends, feuding parents, tricksters

Awards and Lists

2011 RUSA The Reading List Romance

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site: http://www.marybalogh.com/

USA Today Interview: http://www.usatoday.com/story/happyeverafter/2014/06/25/romance-unlaced-madeline-hunter-mary-balogh-excerpt/11322197/

Dear Author Interview: http://dearauthor.com/features/interviews/interview-with-mary-balogh-and-giveaway/

Impressions: Review: http://www.impressionsofareader.com/2010/01/review-matter-of-class-by-mary-balogh.html

The Romantic Life Review: http://theromanticlife.blogspot.com/2010/02/review-matter-of-class-by-mary-balogh.html

Readers’ Advisory 2: Nekropolis. Tim Waggoner

Quick Facts

Author: Tim Waggoner

Directed by: Ken Jackson

Starring: Ken Jackson, Katy Carcuff, Eric Singdahlsen, David Coyne, Steve Wannall, Sherry Berg, Rose Supan, Mort Shelby, Richard Rohan, Bradley Smith, Matthew Schleigh, Jefferson Russell, Nora Achrati, Colleen Delany, Jonathon Church, Scott Mccormick, Ren Casey, James Konicek, Joe Brack, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Andy Clemence, Terence Aselford, Nanette Savard, Lily Beacon, & Eric Messner

Published 2010 Graphic Audio. $19.99US

7 discs, 8 hours. 9781628510157.

Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Noir

Available in print, eBook, and audio

Why I Read It

I’d never heard of Graphic Audio before picking this up from the new shelf in my library. What really hooked me, though, was the tag “A movie in your mind.” Bonus points because it has a full cast and sound effects. I also needed something that would keep me and my best friend awake and engaged on a night drive to North Carolina. I wasn’t sure if this would, even though the premise is interesting, but it looked promising.

TLL’s Tag

Matt Richter, zombie, has stayed on the fringes of Nekropolis since his death, but he’s drawn into the city center, and a deadly plot, by a pretty girl.

The Rundown

Matt Richter, former member of Cleveland’s finest, has been dead for two years. He’s a zombie now, living the solitary life in Nekropolis, home to all Darkfolk, vampires, werewolves and the like. Since he’s not a cop anymore, but still has all the instincts and impetus for justice, he begins doing favors for his friends, or anyone who shows up at his door with a plausible story and the money to exchange for services rendered.

It is immediately after he has successfully fulfilled a favor for a friend that he is approached by Devona, a curator and caretaker of an immense collection. One of the most valuable items in the collection is missing, and Devona needs Matt’s help to find and return it. Oh, and the collection belongs to her father, Bloodborn (vampire) Dark Lord Galm. The missing item is none other than the legendary Dawnstone, which is concentrated sunlight, and deadly to all of Nekropolis. Matt initially refuses, not wanting to get involved in Dark Lord politics. The last time he did so, he ended up a zombie and his partner ended up permanently dead. But Devona is adamant. She needs to recover the Dawnstone before her father finds out.

Here’s what I think

This story was ok. It kept me entertained. I think the best part of the story is the sound effects. There is music playing throughout the audio, ratcheting up the tension and adding to the atmosphere. It makes the constant narration by Richter much more bearable. I would have stopped listening somewhere in the second disc if it had not been for the music. Waggoner also takes quite a bit of time to get to Richter’s back story. There are two discs of build-up before the story of Richter’s life before Nekropolis is revealed. It is also hard to imagine that the entire story takes place in about twelve hours. It feels a lot longer. While I enjoyed the literary easter eggs, Gregor Samsa, the Mariner, and others, I could have done without some of them. It felt as though Waggoner threw them into the story for fun. At the end, however, the reader comes to understand why the winding road to the finale, because the mastermind is a hive mind and prone to convoluted thought processes.

This story is the first in a series, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I’ll be reading the other entries.

Final decision

The sound effects and full cast really make this audiobook worth it.

3Q–Readable, without serious defects.

3.5P–Broad general or genre appeal

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Authors

Philip Pullman

Patrick Carman

Robin Jarvis

Titles

Faefever, Karen Marie Moning

Bloodlist, P.N. Elrond

Polterheist, Laura Resnick

Appeal Factors

Engaging, strong sense of place, witty, atmospheric, offbeat, suspenseful

Book talk ideas

How many literary characters can you fit in one story

The Dark Spire

The Grand Library

Sound effects and full cast

Book discussion questions

1) Did you catch all of the literary easter eggs? Which one did you recognize immediately?

2) Do you feel the Watchers were justified in their actions?

3) Which of the Dark Lords was your favorite? Least favorite? Why?

4) Waldemar is the librarian of Nekropolis. Is he the library itself?

Clues to the Future

Literary, the Watchers, Gregor, Matt Richter, Devona, Dark Lords, Nekropolis, Descension Day, Nekropolis, Tim Waggoner, Graphic Audio, full cast recording, movie in your mind

Awards and Lists

NA

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author Site: http://www.timwaggoner.com/index.htm

Angry Robot Interview: http://angryrobotbooks.com/2009/08/twenty-minutes-with-tim-waggoner/

Monster Librarian Interview: http://monsterlibrarian.com/interviews.htm#Interview_with_Tim_Waggoner

Strange Horizons Review: http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2009/08/nekropolis_by_t.shtml

The SF Site Review: https://www.sfsite.com/11a/nk307.htm

Readers’ Advisory 2: Black Girl Dangerous. Mia McKenzie

Quick Facts

Author: Mia McKenzie

Published 2014 BGD Press, Inc. $16.95US

168pp. 9780988628632

Popular nonfiction, Essays, LGBTQ

Available in print and eBook

Why I Read It

Lately, I’ve found myself intrigued by black and queer writings. Not just black writings, though, all people of color. My role in the library has allowed me to examine the types of books that are being requested, checked out, and never coming back. These are the types of books my community are reading, and I feel like I should be knowledgeable about a wide variety of authors on the topic. Also, I like reading stuff like this. It helps me to refine my own thoughts on the subject.

TLL’s Tag

McKenzie, owner of the popular tumblr blog Black Girl Dangerous, has compiled her most popular posts in this volume.

The Rundown

A collection of essays originally posted to the popular tumblr blog turned phenomena and non-profit organization Black Girl Dangerous.

Here’s what I think

Much like Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist discussed all the ways we can engage and identify, or not, with feminism, McKenzie asks us to think critically about the world around us. In no particular order that I can discern, McKenzie has collected her most popular posts and put them in book form for a wider audience. She hasn’t changed the content of the posts-cum-essays, but she has added “afterthoughts” to a few of them explaining how and why her views have changed, if they have.

In terms of mechanics, the longer pieces are better than the shorter pieces. The short pieces work when placed in their original context as blog posts, but I wish they could have been fleshed out more for the book. The lists, also, work well in the shorter, blog form. That is not to say they do not work here, I just wanted them to be longer. I was reminded of Simien’s Dear White People, even though BGD was written specifically with a people of color audience in mind. The subject is the same, how to survive as a black person in America. Though Simien’s book has a more humourous slant, both books are dangerous and thought-provoking.

Final decision

The pieces are well-thought out, but work better as blog posts. Popular with followers of the original tumblr, website, and those interested in not “navel-gazing” their privilege.

3Q–Readable, without serious defects.

3.5P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of Goodreads

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, Julia Serano

Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer femininities, Del LaGrace Volcano

Does Your Mama Know?: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories

Appeal Factors

Thought-provoking, engaging

Book talk ideas

Beyoncé and Feminism

Navel-gazing your privilege

Discussing race/class.gender/sexuality on social media

Book discussion questions

1) What does it mean to push back against your privilege in your life? McKenzie gives several examples.

2) Satire is widely used as a way to comment on contemporary life. Name one time when satire went too far.

3) Which essay resonated the most/least with you?

Clues to the Future

Black Feminism, Black Girl Dangerous, Mia McKenzie, Dear White People readalikes, queer people of color, essay collections, call to action, isms

Awards and Lists

NA

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site: http://miamckenzie.net/

Black Girl Dangerous: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/

Huffington Post Interview: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yolo-akili/mia-mckenzie-the-summer-we-got-free_b_4026186.html

Contagious Queer Review: https://contagiousqueer.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/book-review-black-girl-dangerous-on-race-queerness-class-and-gender/

Philadelphia CityPaper Review: http://citypaper.net/Arts/Local-book-review-Black-Girl-Dangerous/

 

Readers’ Advisory 2: Iron & Velvet. Alexis Hall

Quick Facts

Author: Alexis Hall

Published 2013 Riptide Publishing.  $16.99US, £12.99UK, €14.99EU

232pp. 9781626490499

Mystery, Paranormal, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Available in print, eBook

Why I Read It

I’d been seeing this book in my library for a few months now. It came to my attention while choosing books for a LGBT Pride display in June. Yes, I plan early, so that I have time to change my mind later. The premise seemed interesting. A half-faerie princess of the Wild Hunt is private investigator, and gets hired by a female vampire prince, who happens to be almost a millenia old and fond of ruffled shirts and orgies, to investigate the murder of a werewolf. It sounds a bit convoluted, but I was curious.

TLL’s Tag

Kate Kane knows she shouldn’t get caught up in para-politics, but money is money and the boss is hot.

The Rundown

Kate Kane is a private investigator. She’s also the half-mortal daughter of the faerie Queen of the Wild Hunt. She’s the ex-girlfriend of Nimue, Witch Queen (and if you recognize the name, yep, Nim’s her, too). She’s also the ex-girlfriend of a controlling, manipulative vampire enforcer. Kate’s got a lot going on. She’s called to investigate the murder of a werewolf cousin in the alley behind a club. This club just so happens to be owned by one of the ruling elite, Julian Saint-Germain, the vampire Prince of Cups. The killing can only be a political declaration of war, but Julian wants to be sure before she attacks.

Here’s what I think

This story has the most convoluted back story in the history of convoluted back stories. That does not, however, make it any less entertaining. Kate has history of dating the wrong people. People who  try to control her life, then leave her hanging. She also has a thing for dominant women. Julian Saint-Germain, 800-year-old former ninja nun vampire prince, is one such woman, though she doesn’t seem  to want to leave Kate. To only take place in an under 300 pages, this story packs a punch. It does feel a bit disjointed, though. It’s possible to pack too much into a story. Though I understand the need to get the exposition and background out-of-the-way in the first book in order to “tell the story” in the next  two books, it may have been better to leave some bits for later on.

That said, I was highly entertained while reading. I got caught up in Kate’s awkwardness and interactions with other characters. I felt the tension at the funeral for the murdered wolf. There’s a lot of action for such a short book as well. Unlike many action stories, this book did not feel like a bunch of action scenes strung together loosely. There’s just enough linear plotting to make sense, but again, there is that disjointed feeling. For example, the scene with the Prince of Coins, a miserly monk, went on for far too long. And the spiders…ick. The red herring of Maeve and her revenge attack didn’t really fit, either.

Final decision

It was entertaining.

3Q–Readable, without serious defects.

3.5P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Authors

Jess Faraday

Robert Rankin

Ben Aaronovitch

Titles

Anonymous Rex, Eric Garcia

Pale Horses, Jassy Mackenzie

Death by Silver, Melissa Scott

Appeal Factors

Amusing, atmospheric, suspenseful

Book talk ideas

Queen of the Wild Hunt

Kate’s sleeping habits

Ninja vampire hunting nuns

Book discussion questions

1) Why was Kate’s mother furious when Kate pledged fealty to Nimue?

2) Kate’s loyalties are all over the place. Do you think her pledge to Nim and her relationship with Julian will get her into trouble?

3) How did you feel about Elsie?

4) Did you like the chapter titles?

5) Kate clearly has mommy issues. Do you think those will ever be resolved?

Clues to the Future

ninja vampire hunting nuns, sewer monsters, Kate Kane, Julian Saint Germain, Tara Vane Tempest, LGBT, the Wild Hunt, private investigator, paranormal mystery, the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, Alexis Hall, Iron and Velvet

Awards and Lists

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site: http://www.quicunquevult.com/

Paranormal Unbound Interview: http://paranormalunbound.com/2014/02/14/a-conversation-with-alexis-hall/

Boys in our Books Interview: http://boysinourbooks.com/2014/01/15/new-author-spotlight-alexis-hall/

Criminal Element Review:http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/12/fresh-meat-iron-a-velvet-by-alexis-hall

Bookpushers Review: http://thebookpushers.com/2013/12/29/review-iron-velvet-kate-kane-paranormal-investigator-1-by-alexis-hall/

Readers’ Advisory 2: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple

Quick Facts 

Author: Maria Semple

Published 2010 Little, Brown and Company. $8US, $9CAN

351pp. 9780316333603

Humor, Satire, Women’s Fiction

Available in print, eBook, and audio

Why I Read It

This book has come through my library so many times. The first time, the cover caught my attention. The second time, I read the description, and while I wasn’t immediately hooked, I was intrigued. It kept coming and going for a while, but I didn’t feel the impetus to read it when it was “popular”. When I was finally ready, I discovered a travesty. My library did not own one copy of this book. Having recently been chosen to select for the paperback fiction collection on the collection development team, this would be one of the first books I bought. I promptly became the first person to check it out too.

TLL’s Tag

Bee must find her mother, Bernadette, who has developed an aversion to people so severe that she disappears rather than grant the gift of a lifetime: a trip to Antarctica.

The Rundown

Told in letters and memos, 15-year-old Balakrishna “Bee” Branch pieces together the story of her mother, MacArthur Grant recipient and renowned architect, Bernadette Fox. They live in a run-down manor house that used to be a boarding school for girls. Their neighbors are rude busybodies, who talk about Bernadette every chance they get. Bee’s school is one of the most progressive in the state. Her father is Elgin Branch, who gave the most famous TEDtalk in TED history. Life should be pretty sweet for Bee. It all comes crashing down, though, when Bernadette disappears into thin air, literally, two days before Christmas and a planned family trip to Antarctica.

Bernadette is brilliant, but she has been stifled by Seattle life and her own unhealthy coping mechanisms. After suffering numerous miscarriages, Bernadette gives birth to Bee, who is born with severe medical issues that require multiple surgeries in the first minutes, and next five years, of her life. All this after having her greatest creation, before Bee, Twenty Mile House, destroyed by her vindictive neighbor.

The family does end up on that trip to Antarctica, albeit by circuitous route.

Here’s what I think

This was brilliant. After being interrupted many times, when I finally got a chance to sit and be with this story, I tore through it. There is so much information about who Bernadette is and why she is the way she is, that I can only commend Semple for handling it in such a way that it didn’t seem like too much information. It did not feel as though a word were wasted or extraneous. In fact, I was sad when I got to the end, because I want to know more about Bernadette, Bee, and Elgin. I want to know how Bernadette will react to Soo-Lin’s pregnancy. I love that Bernadette has no filter, so that reveal would be entertaining.

It does take a minute to get into the story. It’s being told by a teenager, so there are some tangents that don’t seem particularly relevant to the story of Bernadette, but are important to the story of Bee. The characters, except maybe Soo-Lin, are all wonderfully done. I so hoped Audrey would die, crushed by her own arrogance, but what actually happens is much better.

I feel as though everything I want to say is just one hundred different ways of saying how much I loved this book. I see why it won the Alex Award and became bestseller. Even now, years later, this story is so good that I want to tell everybody about it.

It is a story about family and parenting and remembering that parents are people too. In fact, sometimes, they are people first.

Final decision

This book got a lot of hype when it first came out, not from marketing but from reviews and word of mouth. The hype is well justified, and we may see it on the big screen soon.

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

5P–Every reader of this genre wanted it yesterday.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus

Authors

Sheila Curran

Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Jonathan Englert

Titles

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman

The Financial Lives of the Poets, Jess Walter

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, C, Alan Bradley

Appeal Factors

Funny, offbeat, epistolary, witty, engaging,

Book talk ideas

Outsourcing your life

Twenty Mile House

Antarctica

Galer Street School

Book discussion questions

1) How did you feel about Elgin Branch at the beginning of the book? Did your feelings change at all?

2) Bernadette calls Audrey and Soo-Lin gnats. Describe the similarities between gnats and these two characters.

3) Which character undergoes the most change?

4) Bernadette has had four visions so far. What do you think her remaining visions will be or include?

5) Antarctica represents different things for each character. Pick one and describe the impact Antarctica has had on his or her life.

Clues to the Future

Seattle, Microsoft, Samantha 2, TED talks, Bernadette Fox, Bee, Balakrishna, agoraphobia, Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Elgin Branch, epistolary novels, satire

Awards and Lists

Alex Awards 2013

New York Times Bestseller

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site: http://www.mariasemple.com/

Real Simple Q&A: http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/entertainment/maria-semple-answers-questions-from-online-book-club

TED blog Q&A: http://blog.ted.com/ted-gets-hilariously-fictionalized-a-qa-with-author-maria-semple/ 

New York Times Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/07/books/whered-you-go-bernadette-a-maria-semple-novel.html

NPR Review: http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/157227450/screwball-satire-with-a-warm-heart-in-bernadette