The Refrigerator Monologues: A Review

“Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to okay people. Bad things happen to everyone.”

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Annie WuEveryone is dead in Deadtown. Sometimes there are second chances. Do-overs, if you know the right people. But sometimes, at the end of the day, you’re dead and you stay that way.

Paige Embry knows that. Knows she’s more famous now for being dead than she ever was for being alive, for being herself, or even for being Kid Mercury’s girlfriend. It’s just one of those things.

She isn’t the only one.

In fact, there are a lot of them down in Deadtown: The women the heroes had to lose so they could grow. The ones who named them, the ones who helped them understand their new powers, the ones who broke them out, their rivals, their lovers, their teammates.

In Deadtown they call themselves the Hell Hath Club. They’re mostly very beautiful, very well-read, and very angry. They meet every day at the Lethe Café.

There isn’t a lot to do when you’re dead, but everyone in Deadtown loves a good story and at the Hell Hath Club everyone is welcome. All you have to do is pull up a seat, grab your cup of nothing, and listen in The Refrigerator Monologues (2017) by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Annie Wu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Paige’s narration connects short stories following members of the Hell Hath Club as they share their version of origin stories–the stories of how they died and wound up in Deadtown. Wu’s illustrations break up the stories in The Refrigerator Monologues lending an even stronger comic book sensibility to the book.

Each story has Valente’s snappy, mesmerizing prose as the Hell Hath Club’s strange and melancholy stories unfold. Like the club members themselves, The Refrigerator Monologues is angry and unflinching–a searing collection tied together with feminist rage and both an abiding love for and deep frustration with popular superhero and comic book tropes.

Possible Pairings: The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

Soon I Will Be Invincible: A Review

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin GrossmanDoctor Impossible wasn’t always an evil genius, diabolical scientist, and supervillain extraordinaire. He just doesn’t talk about it because it’s really only the heroes who spend time worrying about their origin stories. Doctor Impossible would rather focus on taking over the world. As soon as he breaks out of prison. Again.

Over his long and villainous career Doctor Impossible has tried to take over the world in all of the usual ways with nuclear, thermonuclear, and nanotechnological doomsday devices. He’s tried mind control. He’s traveled backwards and forward in time. He’s used a robot army, insect army, dinosaur army. Even a fungus army, fish and rodents too.

All failures. Even the alien invasion was a failure.

But that’s okay. Because this time Doctor Impossible has a new plan. One that will work.

Fatale doesn’t remember much about her life before she become a cyborg. She’s been told she was on vacation in Brazil. Then she wasn’t. And now she’s Fatale: part skin, part chrome–a technological marvel meant to be the next generation of warfare until the NSA left her out in the cold.

It’s not easy making it as a superhero cyborg on your own, so Fatale is thrilled when she’s invited to join the Champions even if it is to replace their slain robot. The Champions used to be a rock solid team but now cracks are starting to show between the heroes–cracks that might be just the break Doctor Impossible needs in Soon I Will Be Invincible (2007) by Austin Grossman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a charming pastiche of classic superhero plots with chapters alternating between Doctor Impossible and Fatale. (If you read audiobooks, try the audio which as two actors and is a lot of fun.)

Doctor Impossible is a classic supervillain so don’t go into this one expecting a lot of depth and morally grey areas. He is definitely a villain and he definitely doesn’t feel bad about it at all. Sure, he’s learned some things from his rivalry with CoreFire over the years and his failed attempts at world domination. But mostly that was about what didn’t work.

Fatale, in contrast, feels like she’s been thrown into the deep end here and is worried her previous experience working solo has done little to prepare her to join the Champions–especially alongside Doctor Impossible’s old ally Lily. If Fatale feels a little superficial compared to Doctor Impossible’s big personality, blame it on the strict moral code.

Hints of clever world building and a surprise reveal about Lily’s origin story at the end save this one from being too predictable. Soon I Will Be Invincible is entertaining if sometimes expected superhero fare. Recommended for comics fans looking to branch out into prose and, of course, anyone who can’t help but root for the villain.

Possible Pairings: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Watchmen by Alan Moore, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Vicious by Victoria Schwab, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

Vengeful: A Review

“We all have to live with our choices.”

Vengeful by V. E. SchwabFive years ago Victor Vale completed the master stroke of his plan to take down his former best friend turned rival, Eli Ever. But the thing about an enemy who is, for all intents and purposes, immortal is that they’re hard to kill. Sometimes they’re even hard to keep contained–especially when they have nothing but time.

Victor has bigger concerns now as he tries to control a power he no longer understands  thanks to his resurrection. What was once black and white has become dangerously grey as Victor is forced to decide how far he is willing to go to save himself and protect the unlikely people who refuse to let him go.

Sydney thought she had found a new family with Victor and Mitch–or at least better friends and certainly better protectors. But five years is a long time to be protected; to be treated like a child. Especially now that Sydney is old enough to see cracks forming as the life she made for herself starts to fall apart.

Power is always a dangerous thing. But ExtraOrdinary powers are an entirely different kind of dangerous–something that Victor, Eli, and the entire city of Merit finds out when Marcella Riggins arrives. Revenge was never going to be enough for Marcella but as she tries to take power from the men who have only seen her as a pretty face, Marcella’s quest for power might bring the entire city to ruin around her in Vengeful (2018) by V. E. Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop.

Vengeful is set five years after Schwab’s earlier novel Vicious. Although both can function as standalone novels, it’s best to start the series at the beginning.

Vengeful uses the same braided narrative structure moving characters toward an inevitable final confrontation while also using flashbacks to explore what brought each character to this point. While readers will be happy to see familiar characters including Victor, Mitch, and Sydney, Schwab also introduces a new group of EOs here who are equally compelling.

Where Vicious provided a sharp contrast between what can make a hero and a villain, Vengeful walks the line between the two and blurs it as both Victor and Eli are pushed into making choices–and alliances–they never would have previously considered. Themes of second chances and found family are also explored especially well as Victor and Sydney’s relationship changes and evolves with Sydney working to exert herself as an equal as well as a friend.

Vengeful is the sequel fans expect but also the continuation readers deserve filled with both familiar characters and unexpected turns hinting at what might come next.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The Supervillain and Me: A Review

No one knows why some people develop super powers and others don’t. The only certainty is that supers fight crime provided much needed aid in a world riddled with violence and danger.

Abby Hamilton knows that supers are the only reason it’s even remotely save in Morriston. She just wishes that the town’s hottest superhero, Red Comet, wasn’t also her incredibly annoying older brother Connor.

Abby made peace with being normal a long time ago. She doesn’t mind. Especially when her real passion is musical theater, anyway. Still, it would sometimes be nice to take center stage in her own family instead of always being overshadowed by Connor’s heroic feats and her father’s job as mayor.

When Morriston’s newest super save Abby from a mugging, she has no idea that he’s Iron Phantom–a dangerous new supervillain. Except according to Iron Phantom himself, he isn’t actually evil. And he isn’t the biggest threat to the city by a long shot in The Supervillain and Me (2018) by Danielle Banas.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Supervillain and Me is Banas’ debut novel. Although it is a series starter, the story also functions as a standalone.

The Supervillain and Me starts with an incredibly fun premise. Who doesn’t want to read about a world filled with superheroes and a misunderstood supervillain? Unfortunately, the premise is a bit misleading as Abby’s first person narration focuses more on traditional high school antics like auditioning for the school musical than the superhero shenanigans I had hoped for.

The world building is also flat offering little explanation for where Morriston is situated in the world or how supers function aside from local heroes Red Comet and Fish Boy. It’s no exaggeration to say that readers learn more about Abby’s school musical than they do about anything else in this world.

Abby is a smart-talking narrator complete with one note jokes and wise cracks that sometimes read as a bit too sharp. It’s hard to talk about the other characters in the book, or even more of the plot, without also sharing spoilers. The supporting cast includes a lot of fun characters. Unfortunately most of those characters are male. Every active super that readers encounter and, in fact, almost every character aside from Abby and her best friend Sarah, are male. Since superheroes are already often seen as the domain of boys and men, that was especially frustrating.

The Supervillain and Me is a fast-paced read filled with action, witty banter, and some light romance–ideal for readers looking for humor, excitement, and a superhero story told in broad strokes.

Possible Pairings: Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Bone Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We have come a long way only to fall apart.”

cover art for The Bone Witch by Rin ChupecoTea never meant to raise her brother Fox from the dead or expected to become a dark asha—a bone witch to those who fear and revile them—but that is exactly what happens setting Tea’s life on a dramatically different course when she is thirteen and comes into her powers.

Asha training is rigorous and takes Tea and her brother far home. Life in the asha-ka is both less exciting and more dangerous than Tea ever could have imagined making it hard for her to ever feel completely comfortable in her new role as an asha-in-training.

But that doesn’t explain what happened four years later to leave Tea banished to the Sea of Skulls where she tells her story to an exiled bard while raising fearsome daeva (demons) to use for dark purposes.

The nobility in the Eight Kingdoms and even the asha elders have always viewed dark asha as expendable–meant to serve their purpose slaying daeva and not much else. Raising the daeva is one step in Tea’s plan to save dark asha lives. The next steps will change the shape of the world forever or break apart the Eight Kingdoms in the process in The Bone Witch (2017) by Rin Chupeco.

The Bone Witch is the first book in Chupeco’s trilogy by the same name. The story continues in The Heart Forger.

Most of this novel is narrated by Tea in the first person as she looks back on her initiation into the world of the asha and her subsequent training. Tea relates these memories to an exiled bard with the jaded detachment brought on by the distance of four years and her own banishment.

The Bone Witch is a tightly wound story filled with intrigue and tension. The story lines of Tea’s past at the asha-ka and her present on the Isle of Skulls build simultaneously to a shocking crescendo as secrets are revealed and loyalties tested. Careful plotting and deliberate reveals will leave readers questioning everything and breathless for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, Sabriel by Garth Nix

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy: A Review

Whether it’s secretly cheering them on or not-so-secretly waiting for them to meet a bad end, readers love villains. Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy capitalizes on that fascination while failing to explore the reasoning behind it in this unwieldy collection edited by Youtube sensation Ameriie.

Each author’s short story is inspired by a Booktuber-provided prompt ranging from vague like “A young Moriarty” for Susan Dennard’s “Shirley and Jim” which presents a modern (and female) Holmes meeting Moriarty for the first time at boarding school to bizarrely specific. Renée Ahdieh’s sci-fi story “The Blood of Imuriv” is inspired by the prompt “The grandson of an evil, matriarchal dictator who tried to rule over the universe wants to follow in her footsteps and accidentally loses his temper, killing his sibling in a game of chess.”

This wide range of prompts leads to stories of varying quality and makes this cross-genre collection less than cohesive. BookTuber contributions range from personality quizzes and literary criticism about the stories to personal essays related to the prompts.

Standout stories include Soman Chainani’s “Gwen and Art and Lance” (“A modern-day mash-up of the King Arthur legend and Persephone-Hades myth”) which is written entirely in texts and emails between the titular characters as Gwen tries to manipulate Art into taking her to prom amidst unwanted overtures from Lance and “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (“Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland”) which offers a nuanced meditation on what it means to be Death–and what it means to try to run from it.

There are no redeeming qualities for most of the villains here and, for the most part, a lot of superficiality. One notable exception is Cindy Pon’s poignant story “Beautiful Venom” (prompt: “Medusa, go!”) which makes the Greek myth relevant to modern readers as they watch Mei Feng become Mei Du in Pon’s tragic retelling with a Chinese setting. Because You Love to Hate Me is a marketable if not entirely serviceable collection that will appeal to fans of the contributing authors.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the July 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Vicious: A Review

“The world resists, when you break its rules.”

Vicious by V. E. SchwabVictor and Eli have been competing with each other since the moment they met. Victor could easily surpass Eli, of course. But he recognizes the same reckless ambition in Eli and, Victor thinks, the same broken pieces that Victor can’t quite fix in himself. In a world where so many things are boring Eli, at least, is interesting.

Eli proves to be especially interesting in their senior year of college when their shared thesis research about adrenaline and near-death experiences reveals that under the right circumstances it may be possible to develop ExtraOrdinary abilities.

Their fates tangle even further when experiments with that research go horribly wrong.

Ten years later Victor and Eli find themselves on opposite sides of a battle for power. While Victor breaks out of prison determined to exact revenge on the friend who betrayed him, Eli is on a mission of his own to eliminate every ExtraOrdinary person that he can.

Victor and Eli both know a final meeting is inevitable. They both know only one is likely to survive. But even as they move inexorably closer to that final confrontation, it’s unclear who will emerge the hero. And who will forever be remembered as the villain in Vicious (2013) by V. E. Schwab.*

Find it on Bookshop.

Vicious is an intricately plotted story of revenge and the not-quite redemption of Victor Vale. With chapters labeled “ten years ago” and “last night” (among other times) readers are brought closer and closer to Victor and Eli’s dramatic showdown. Flashbacks interspersed with the present story explain the rivalry between the two men while also providing valuable insight into their characters.

Schwab expertly navigates the murky area between right and wrong as readers (and perhaps the characters themselves) are left wondering who, if anyone, is the actual hero of the story.  With a plot exploring the idea that opposing a self-proclaimed hero–even for very good, very right reasons–might make someone a villain by default, Vicious is still populated with a number of surprisingly likable characters.

Vicious pushes the boundaries of conventional superhero tropes to take this story in a new and original direction. Readers looking for the next great anti-hero or fans who always cheer a little louder for the bad guy will definitely want to give Vicious a try.

*V. E. Schwab is the alter ego of YA author Victoria Schwab. This book is marketed for adult readers. It would be great for older teen readers but younger readers should be prepared for more mature language and some violence.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*