Book review: Gothic Tales of Haunted Love by Hope Nicholson & S.M. Beiko

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love by Hope Nicholson & S.M. Beiko
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 23, 2018
Source: Sent by publisher

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love is a new comics anthology curated by Hope Nicholson (The Secret Loves of Geek Girls) and S.M. Beiko (Scion of the Fox).

In 1950s Vietnam, a lost soul comes to the aid of his lover’s field under attack by American troops.

In Victorian Boston, a new governess comes to care for the rogueish widower of a stately manor and his charming brood of children.

A fashion journalist lands the interview of her dreams – but it unearths the deadly secrets of Taiwan’s most popular fashion designer.

A Sioux elder revives a recently deceased woman who sets out to recover her lost love.

A Jamaican slave faces the horrors of her hateful mistress, on the eve of her liberation.

A Brazilian writer-in-exile discovers the dark history of an abandoned mansion inhabited by a charming and sensual ghost.

And a young bride spins a story of murder and deceit that paints her husband as a killer . . . but is there any truth to her tale?

Featuring 19 original stories from some of modern comics’ finest talent, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love collects fragments of lovers torn apart, romantic liasons with the unliving, ghostly revenge, and horrific deeds, in the vein of the short-lived 1970s gothic romance comics.

A foreword on gothic romance comics is provided by historian Jacque Nodell, and the collection also features a reprint of the 1970s Korean horror-romance comic “The Promise” by Sanho Kim.

I generally have mixed feelings about anthologies, but when I got an email offering me a free copy of Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, I couldn’t resist. After all, I’m on a huge graphic novel kick. Reading something that was at least a little out of my comfort zone didn’t sound so bad, either.

As usual, I had wildly varying thoughts about the stories in this anthology.

Crush by Janet Hetherington, Ronn Sutton, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: ★★★★☆

I was getting some Sound of Music vibes from this one, and even half-expected some clothes made out of curtains, until the end. I did not see that ending coming!

Rose’s Heart by Colleen Coover: ★★★★☆

I wasn’t loving this one at the beginning. I thought it would go the very cliche way of Jim ending up as the villain, and I’m glad he didn’t. That ending, though, totally saved this story. My goodness!!!

Secrets in the Silk by Nika: ★★★★☆

This one was so much fun! Or, at least, as fun as murderous mayhem can be…

L’Heure Verte by Femi Sobowale, Caroline Dougherty & Zakk Saam: ★★★☆☆

I thought this story was cute, but the twist was (1) much less exciting than the previous three stories and (2) honestly kind of obvious.

Goldblind by Hope Nicholson & Scott Chantler: ★☆☆☆☆

I feel kind of bad, but I did not understand the point of this one. Like, at all.

Minefield by Hien Pham: ★★★☆☆

This is primarily written in Vietnamese, so I’m not 100% sure that I fully understand what was going on, but it made me very, very sad and I’m calling that a success.

The Return by David A. Robertson & Scott B. Henderson: ★★★☆☆

An interesting enough premise, but the execution was pretty cliche. It basically just followed every fable ever.

Green, Gold, and Black by Cherelle Higgins & Rina Rozsas: ★★☆☆☆

The art was great and the story was heartbreaking, but what exactly was the point? I feel like this was too big of a story to tell in this short amount of pages and it would have been improved a lot if it were at least twice as long.

Ladies of the Lake by Sarah Winifred Searle: ★★★★☆

I love twists on Arthurian legends, so this one was right up my alley. I fully expected that final twist, but still appreciated it. This one was a great story.

Fazenda do Sangue Azul by H. Pueyo & Dante L.: ★★★☆☆

There are some definite plot holes here when it comes to the ghost’s appearance (and actions), but I still enjoyed this one. Surprisingly, even with the torture and war and everything, it was pretty cute.

A Heritage of Woods by S.M. Beiko & Maia Kobabe: ★☆☆☆☆

Oh dear. This one was too much.I could have happily lived my life without seeing someone have sex with a tree.

Lovers’ Moon by Chris Stone & Dani Bee: ★★★☆☆

So, first of all, I’m not a doctor but I don’t think you get Graves disease from walking around at night. That said, this one had an interesting twist, and I loved the conversation between Andrew and John.

Mistress Fox by Megan Kearney: ★★★★☆

Another twist I didn’t see coming! I was already on board with the idea of the main character recounting her dream, but that twist really took it to another level.

My Heart Still Beats for You by Amber Noelle & Allison Paige: ★☆☆☆☆

I’m sorry, but is this the novelization of every text post from 2009 Tumblr?

One More Cup by Barbara Guttman: ★☆☆☆☆

I was 100% on board with this until the end. These tragic, supernatural love stories are just not my thing.

Ouroboros by Svetla Nikolova & LAB: ★☆☆☆☆

Not sure what’s up with all of these dramatically emo stories all of a sudden. This honestly reminded me of something that one of my more dramatic friends would have tried to convince me was amazing back in like… 2004. It’s everything she used to find on Xanga and covertly print out in the school’s computer lab. It wasn’t my thing then and it’s still not my thing now.

I Am the Song by Cecil Castellucci, Willow Dawson, Becka Kinzie & Zakk Saam: ★☆☆☆☆

What… in tarnation. There was no point.

What’s Best by Katie West, Ray Fawkes & Zakk Saam: ★★★☆☆

Interesting art style. Odd storyline. But above all else, this was entertaining.

The Promise by Sanho Kim: ★★★☆☆

I can’t really say that this is my favorite story that I’ve ever read, but I have to say that the soldier really got what was coming to him.

Grave Misfortune by Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris: ★★★★★

I have never not loved something by these authors.

Overall: 2.65 stars, rounded up to 3

#mm19: one sitting reads
#romanceopoly: creature crescent

Have you read Gothic Tales of Haunted Love? Have you read any other graphic novel anthologies? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: A Most Imperfect Union by Ilan Stavans

A Most Imperfect Union by Ilan Stavans
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Enough with the dead white men! Forget what you learned in school! Ever since Columbus—who was probably a converted Jew—“discovered” the New World, the powerful and privileged have usurped American history. The true story of the United States lies not with the founding fathers or robber barons, but with the country’s most overlooked and marginalized peoples: the workers, immigrants, housewives, and slaves who built America from the ground up and made this country what it is today.

In A Most Imperfect Union, cultural critic Ilan Stavans and award-winning cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz present a vibrant alternative history of America, giving full voice to the country’s unsung but exceptional people. From African royals to accused witches, from Puerto Rican radicals to Arab immigrants, Stavans and Alcaraz use sardonic humor and irreverent illustrations to introduce some of the most fascinating characters in American history—and to recount travesties and triumphs that mainstream accounts all too often ignore. What emerges is a colorful group portrait of these United States, one that champions America’s progress while also acknowledging its missteps.

Sweeping and cinematic, stretching from the nation’s prehistory to the post-9/11 era, A Most Imperfect Union is a joyous, outrageous celebration of the complex, sometimes unruly individuals and forces that have shaped our ever-changing land.

Oh dear, it’s time for another one-star review. When I checked out a pile of graphic novels from the library, I thought I was avoiding this nonsense, but here we are again. I thought this would be an interesting, maybe funny look at U.S. history. I thought I might learn something. I was wrong.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what the point of this book was.

In terms of historical content… it’s all over the place. It’s sort of in chronological order, until it isn’t, and then at one point the author just blatantly promotes his own Twitter account?? In a history book?? Most topics were barely touched on, getting half a page or so in this 288-page book. Rather than this haphazard account of American history that spends as much time on the fact that Barbie is named after the daughter of Mattel’s cofounder as the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, I would have preferred a book that picked one area of history and gave it the attention it deserved.

In terms of this being a “contrarian” history…. is it considered “contrarian” to point out that Christopher Columbus could not have discovered the United States because people already lived here? Is it considered “contrarian” to say that some of our most revered presidents did not-great things sometimes? Is it considered “contrarian” to mention that history is primarily written by rich white men? None of this was news.

In terms of art and layout… I personally found it distracting. There were fairly detailed black and white drawings with walls of text, and that’s just not conducive to reading a graphic novel. If you want to write walls of text, write a standard non-fiction history book. Don’t just shove some pictures in there and call it a graphic novel.

All in all, I almost DNFed this book several times, but eventually pushed my way through so I could get it out of my house. Definitely not recommended, but I’d love to hear recommendations of similar books that are actually good!

Have you read A Most Imperfect Union? What’s your favorite history-themed book?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC review: Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries

Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Source: ARC via Edelweiss

Nina Rodriguez knows a hidden magical world run by ruthless cabals is hiding in Los Angeles. When a giant magic beast kidnaps her sister, Nina must confront her past (and her demons) to get her sister back and reclaim her life. Don’t miss the first collection of the smash-hit neo-noir fantasy series from fan-favorite writer SAM HUMPHRIES (Harley Quinn, Nightwing) and red-hot artist JEN BARTEL (Mighty Thor)!

I noticed this graphic novel when I was scrolling through Edelweiss one day. The cover alone made me download it. I mean, the color palette! The artwork! Amazing. I’m a sucker for this kind of art style.

I read this book in one sitting. It’s an interesting enough premise. We start out with adult Nina working as a bartender, addicted to pills, and constantly arguing with the sister she lives with. It seems that Nina can’t get her life together and it all goes back to a traumatic event from her childhood, an earthquake that everyone she knows insists was a normal event but that she knows was supernatural. Turns out there’s a secret society of paragons living in plain sight in modern Los Angeles. Nina has been noticing their existence ever since the earthquake, but not really understanding what was happening.

The story handles the fantasy world well enough. It’s set up in a very basic manner, but this is only the first volume, so I have faith that it’ll be expanded in the future. The issue I took with this story was Nina’s “real” life. At the beginning of the book, Nina is struggling with her addiction. She’s constantly thinking about more pills, more pills, more pills. Then, all of a sudden… she just isn’t. The story surrounding her family and her childhood also felt very repetitive. I get it, okay. Her mom died, her family thinks she’s crazy, she pretty much raised herself. It’s all very sad. I didn’t need to be reminded of it every few pages.

I’ll end on a positive note — if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I love cats. (And if you didn’t, now you do.) Sharpie was easily one of the best parts about this book for me. Just look at him.

#romanceopoly: kickass lane

Have you read Blackbird? What’s the last urban fantasy you read?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 27, 2015
Source: Purchased

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…

When I bought this book, I knew nothing about it other than it had a fun title and I’d heard good things about Patrick Ness. I started reading it without having even read the synopsis, and I knew almost immediately that I’d love it.

I’ve read countless YA books about the “Chosen One.” There’s Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, Throne of Glass… I could go on. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that trope. When it’s written well, it can make for a really good story. One of my all-time favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also bases itself around this trope.

Ness takes this trope and turns it around, focusing instead on the kids who aren’t involved in all of the supernatural happenings. While the indie kids are off in the background dealing with vampires and zombies and ghosts and mysterious blue lights, Mike and his friends are sorting out their own problems. They’re dealing with relationship drama, mental illness, stress about graduation, and less-than-stellar parenting. This book deals with a lot of issues in a relatively short amount of pages.

I think my favorite part of the book was the almost sassy descriptions of the indie kids at the beginning of each chapter. I also loved the way the seemingly unrelated activities of the indie kids were woven into the story toward the end. Quite honestly, there was very little that it didn’t love about this book. Also, bonus points for tons of cats.

I would highly recommend this book if you’re interested in seeing a common trope turned on its head and maybe even made fun of a little bit. I can’t wait to read more from Ness.

#killingthetbr: five months on shelf

Have you read The Rest of Us Just Live Here? Which book by Ness should I read next?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins

Ask Me Anything by Molly E. Lee
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: Purchased

Life is almost back to normal for Harper Price. The Ephors have been silent after their deadly attack at Cotillion months ago, and her best friend, Bee, has returned after a mysterious disappearance. Now Harper can focus on the important things in life: school, canoodling with David (her nemesis-turned-ward-slash-boyfie), and even competing in the Miss Pine Grove pageant.

Unfortunately, supernatural chores are never done. The Ephors have decided they’d rather train David than kill him. The catch: Harper has to come along for the ride, but she can’t stay David’s Paladin unless she undergoes an ancient trial that will either kill her . . . or make her more powerful than ever. 

It’s been a while since I read Rebel Belle, but I remember enjoying it an awful lot. It was a ton of fun, gave me some serious Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes, and there were so many things about it that I thought were great! I had planned to read Miss Mayhem much earlier than I did, but I kind of forgot about it until I stumbled across this book at a used bookstore (for $1!!) a few months ago.

I think that three-star reviews are the hardest ones to write, because I just don’t have that much to say. I didn’t love this. I didn’t hate it. It was entertaining enough that I finished it in about 24 hours, but not entertaining enough that I’m sad it’s done.

Harper is still a great character. She’s so strong, she’s just trying to do the right thing, and she knows how to use good manners as a weapon. She finally gets her best friend, Bee, back, and it was so great to see their friendship and how they supported each other. Harper’s Aunt Jewel was amazing and I wish she could just adopt me.

Aside from those high points, though, the book was just okay. The book is only 272 pages, but it felt like it moved very slowly. There’s only one real plot point in this book (aside from a lot of relationship drama), and while it’s interesting enough, it’s not enough to support nearly 300 pages, and I didn’t really feel like any progress had been made by the end of the book.

It almost feels as though Miss Mayhem was written to set up Lady Renegades. Given that Lady Renegades has a lower Goodreads average than Miss Mayhem, though (3.41 vs. 3.48), I’m not really sure that I want to take the time to read it. If you’ve completed this series, I’d be really curious to hear what you think. Is it worth continuing?

#killingthetbr: four months on shelf
#ps19: a book about someone with a superpower
#romanceopoly: magic row

Have you read Miss Mayhem? What about Lady Renegades?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1 by Gerard Way

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1 by Gerard Way
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source: Borrowed

In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born to women who’d previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, “To save the world.”

These seven children form the Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.

My best friend is obsessed with My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way, and this series, so I was pretty excited to find it on hoopla. We usually have pretty similar opinions, but not in this case. I’m so sorry, but this was not good.

I’m usually pretty forgiving with graphic novels. They’re what I turn to when I want a quick, easy-to-understand story. I don’t think I’ve ever before given a graphic novel one star. But this one… I just don’t really understand what Gerard Way was going for here. This book was a mess.

Like, I’m not even sure where to start.

I guess I’ll start with the complete lack of plot. Don’t get me wrong, things happen, but I can’t call what happens in this book a “plot.” It’s more like a collection of ideas that are tossed together and abruptly forgotten about. The ideas might be good if they were actually expanded upon, but they’re not. Overall, it was just a very choppy and disjointed story.

The characters don’t seem to have motivations for their actions. And, honestly, even after reading about these characters for nearly 200 pages, I couldn’t tell you any defining characteristics about them aside from their appearances. There’s the really tall one. The girl who looks like a violin. The kid. I think violin girl is named Vanya, but I can’t remember anybody else’s name and I only finished this thing like an hour ago.

I didn’t mind the art style (that’s about the only positive I can come up with), but there were way too many words shoved onto almost every page. If I wanted to read blocks of text, I would have picked up an actual novel and not a graphic novel.

All in all, I’m just incredibly disappointed. I can’t help but feel that this was published solely because Gerard Way is famous, and one thing I hate is celebrities thinking they’re allowed to publish bad books just because they’re famous. (See also: Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton.) I had checked out the second volume of this series, too, but I’m about 103% sure I won’t be reading it.

Have you read Umbrella Academy? Have you seen the show?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 13, 1995
Source: Purchased

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. 

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

Back in 2017, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic. I loved that book so much and decided that I needed to read Practical Magic asap. Well, fast forward a year and a half, and I found it at a used bookstore. Fast forward another three months and I’ve finally read it. It only took constant (though well-meaning and affectionate) prodding from one of my friends, who wanted to borrow it.

Almost every time I pick up a book by Alice Hoffman, I get the same feeling. It happened with Seventh Heaven, it happened with The Rules of Magic, and it happened again here with Practical Magic. Maybe it’s because all of these books feature at least a little bit of magical realism, but they just have this vibe about them that transports me right to where the characters are.

I loved all of our characters here — Sally and Gillian, Antonia and Kylie, Frances and Jet, and even minor characters like Gideon, Ben, and Gary. This book is very heavy on relationships, both platonic and romantic. I think that my favorite thing about the book was the bond between the sisters. Antonia and Kylie’s love for each other, in particular, really made the book for me.

Something that surprised me when I was reading was all of the emotions I felt! I did not expect this book to pull at my heart like this, but there were a number of times when I was reading that I almost cried!

I’d highly, highly recommend this book if you’re at all interested in magical realism or family bonds.

#killingthetbr: three months on shelf
#romanceopoly: faraway land
#ps19: a book with a two-word title

Have you read Practical Magic? Have you seen the movie? Should I drop everything and watch it now?Let’s talk in the comments!

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