Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: One-Off Fantasy/Magical Adventures

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Possibly my favorite genre of comics, and one of the larger lists to be culled from the nominations this year – graphic works are suited for describing the fantastic if done well, and there’s a lot of fun and variety in these selections, so if yo u find your attention waning partway through, please take a break and come back to appreciate the back end of the list with fresh eyes.


Sing No Evil

JP Ahonen, writer

KP Alare, artist


Anticipation/Expectation level: Another one I’m on hold for – excited to read this! Although the comics I’ve read about people in bands are usually disappointing, this one looks like it could be fun.

Art Taste:



The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

Stephen Collins, writer and artist


Anticipation/Expectation level: Based on the title, pretty high?

My Reality: It’s one of those gentle stunners of a book that is somewhere closer to adult picture book on the graphic novel spectrum. A fable-like story about an island named here where everything is in its place, surrounded by a sea that leads to There, an unknown place of frightening chaos. An inhabitant of the island has one hair on his chin that goes haywire, causing problems for all of the island’s society and culture.

The text is gentle, with a sure tone and an almost-rhyming feel. It is very rhythmic and I sang part of it to my cats as part of their integration therapy. The art is penciled, with a sense of lighting that adds to the otherworldliness and gravity of the story. Collins balances the softness of his pencils and the lulling of his words with the helplessness of the unknown that lurks beneath both. It is a treat.

Will teens like it?: Yes, it doesn’t have an immediate hook apart from the great title, but it’s not hard to get into and provides its own rewards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – much like The Arrival, this is the kind of book that isn’t marketed towards teens but would be great to use in a book club, to introduce to an arts loving teenager or foist upon a book club with success, because there’s not really an impediment to getting something from it other than the thought that it might not be like what one is used to reading.

Art Taste:

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil



Ananth Panagariya, writer

Tessa Stone, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: It looked fun, but I knew nothing of it going in. I like the name Tessa.

My Reality: Like Hicks’ and Shen’s Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongBuzz! is a solid entry into the teen high school slightly off adventure comic market. It’s easy to pick up off the shelf and recommend because it’s a new concept (underground spelling bees) running on standard tropes (outsiders who used to be insiders take on powerful conglomerate with the help of a talented newbie, betrayal from sort of within happens). And there’s nothing that is objectionable unless you object to a hint of magic. The action starts quickly and escalates quickly and the art is dynamic, hitting a spot between Faith Erin Hicks and Brian Lee O’Malley (as does the tone of the story). In short: fun.

For me, the action was a bit too quick and I never felt any resonance with the characters or their struggles, everyone was a bit too blithe. However, I don’t really count my feelings as meaning much because I’m not the ideal audience for this book. I don’t think it’s meant to be resonant, and I don’t think it has to be to be a successful comic. In fact, as a teen services librarian I wish for more of these fun, one-off books for my shelves.

Will teens like it?: Yes.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:



Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem

Steve Niles and Matt Santoro, writers

Dave Wachter, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/Expectation level: I’v always been a fan of golems.  I was interested to see what this book would do to distinguish itself in the saturated WWII market. (Pretty sure there are even already books about golems in WWII).

My Reality: A straightforward tale, as far as a tale about using a Golem against Nazis goes. A boy loses his father to World War… One, I think. Or two. Anyway, enough time that he grows up a bit in between. He’s waiting in a small village with his grandfather and other elderly people, all Jewish or mostly Jewish. He’s still waiting when a plane crashes outside of town. This is bad, because it is an Allied pilot who will bring scrutiny from Nazis. There is barely enough time to flee, so his grandfather entrusts  him with the secret of golem-making, and makes a Golem.

In keeping with the folsky, mythical vibe of the Golem, the tale is focused on the elemental parts of the story: good over evil, nobility over greed, sons discovering their strength in the absence of fathers and father figures. The Golem itself is elemental: the protection of earth and faith. The historical detail of the story adds another layer of pathos and dignity. And the art is gorgeous: detailed, black and white with a nice flowing sense of space and shadow, highlighted by brushy washes of grey and black. Unfortunately, by focusing on the elemental parts of the story, the story ends up being kind of forgettable. It’s evocative during reading, but might fade from the mind over time, merging with other golems or other WWII tales.

Will teens like it?: I can see some teens liking it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s good. I don’t know if it crosses over to great. For teens. But I bet someone else could argue it.

Art Taste:



The Undertaking of Lily Chen

Danica Novgorodoff, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/Expectation level: High, because I read Slow Storm and Refresh, RefreshI loved those books and was excited to read a longer work with a more clearly defined plot from Novgorodoff.

My Reality: If The Undertaking of Lily Chen were a movie it would be a fast talking movie in the mold of 30s and 40s flicks and it would be a farce, only set in China and having to do with a less-loved son finding a corpse to bury with his dead, too-venerated older brother. It’s a strange mix but one that works – Novgorodoff is good at finding the groove in uneasiness.

The main story is a chase/road trip type format, with Deshi Li dealing with the abrupt and violent end of his brother (by his hands), his place within his family, and his desperation to find a corpse or someone to murder to become a corpse bride. He runs into Lily Chen, who is brassy and adventurous in contrast to Deshi’s sad and anxious mode. She is trying to get to Shanghai from the poor countryside by any means possible. She becomes Deshi’s target and companion. The story, as it is, is not the strongest part of the book. The central idea of the ghost marriage as an impetus is interesting, but not enough to sustain the whole book – that would fall on Deshi’s shoulders, and he never really proves himself as a main character. Lily, being the titular character and the more naturally active person, is compelling, but so concerned with her movement away from her past that it’s hard to admire more than her gumption.

What really pulls everything together is the art. Sweeping, melancholy vistas of mountains. Twlight and dawn-light. Out of body experiences. Novgorodoff mixes delicate watercolors with pen-line shadows and outlined characters, the exaggerated with the realistic, creating a world slightly beyond the real.

Will teens like it?: Yes. It’s intriguing and well-paced.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes  – the shortcomings of the characterization are balanced out by the art and themes that emerge near the end.

Art Taste:

lilychen lilychen2


Moonhead and the Music Machine

Andrew Rae, writer and artist

Nobrow Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: I like Nobrow.

My Reality: This hit all the sweet spots for me. Palpable depictions of awkwardness that lead to heartwarming scenes of celebration of being weird. Joey Moonhead has a moon for a head. No one talks about it, but he and his family are the only ones who are visibly different from all the other humanoids. Joey is out of it and kind of shy, but he wants to build a music machine for a talent show. His first attempt is pitiful but he is discovered by a new friend – a ghost-person, dresssed in a sheet, who is kind of a musical genius, and he blows off his long time buddy to pursue the dream.  I found it to be relatable, a story that has been told, but a heartfelt, personal take on it that works. Rae’s art is all clear lines with a great sense of storytelling beats through the pacing of the panels. And he draws great creatures.

Will teens like it?: Teens might think it’s too weird or off their usual path, but I bet they would like it if they gave it a chance. Or they might think its message is too simple.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s great!

Art Taste:




Down Set Fight!

Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, writers

Scott Kowalchuk, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: Verging from neutral to vaguely wary about sports content.

My Reality: Down Set Fight! is unapologetically a book about fighting. To be specific, it’s about a football player who is most famous for fighting on field and has abandoned his career and aged into being a high school coach. Until mascots start seeking him out to fight him. (There’s also a back story with his sleazy dad.) The fun the writers had dreaming up the mascots is readily apparent, and although there’s a mystery element to the plot, it is really all about Chuck fighting mascots and figuring out why they want to fight him. It’s all done with a sense of whimsy and over-the-top violence that isn’t gruesome or realistic in anyway, and I admire that.

Will teens like it?: You could sell this to a teen.

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know if it’s great. I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:



Beautiful Darkness

Fabien Vehlmann, writer

Kerascoët, artists

Drawn & Quarterly

Anticipation/Expectation level: Read a preview of this last year and really, really wanted to read it.

My Reality: Possibly one of the best books I’ve read, period. It is beautiful and terrible – terrible in the sense of being deeply frightening. Or maybe the right word is horror, or is there a word of witnessing the consequences of bad decisions or acts of god(s) and being struck by the impassive blankness of nature? It’s that. There are very visceral moments in here that will stay with a person.

So, the book is about these tiny fairy-ish people who emerge from the body of a dead girl in a forest. It’s not clear who they are or how they ended up in the body but they now have to survive in the forest. Some are oblivious to the dangers, some scheme to get power, some try to help out, some go out on their own. The team of Kerascoët is the perfect choice to illustrate this world, with their sure, delicate pen lines and richly colored, realistic backgrounds.

Why should I say more when you could be reading this book?

Will teens like it?: Yes. It might scar younger readers, but will also fascinate them.

Is it “great” for teens?: I mean… it’s great.

Art Taste:



Best Friend 4-Ever: Paper Valentine

A Review of Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff 

Razorbill, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, August 12, 2013

Hannah’s best friend Lillian has been dead for six months, but for Hannah, she’s always around. And now Lillian is helping her investigate a string of murders that have been committed against teenaged girls in their town—murders connected by paper valentines left at the scene. As if that weren’t enough, Hannah finds herself drawn to Finny Boone, a boy who seems to shoplift more than he goes to school. Can Hannah solve the murders, or will she become the next victim?

Brenna Yovanoff’s Paper Valentine is about a serial killer, sure, but it’s at its most interesting when it’s exploring the territory of friendship and the ways that style and taste both express our personalities and exert control over them.

Lillian was the queen bee of her and Hannah’s group of friends, and she set their agenda:

“It was Lillian who decided . . . that there was room for only one really enviable group in school, and we were going to be that group. . . . The kind where when a band gets big or a movie comes out, everyone checks to see how you feel about it before they can decide if they like it, and if you come to class with neon crackle nail polish or colored eyeliner, they all have to . . . get it too, but they never forgot that you wore it first.

That was what Lillian wanted . . . we’d be the girls you could never confuse with anyone else. The girls who invented the colors and started the trends . . . The biggest requirement of Lillian’s fashion philosophy was to always wear it—whatever it was—like you meant it. Like no one in the world could inhabit that exact outfit but you.” (50-51).”

The girls make their own clothes, sewing one thing into another and adding whimsical decorations, Lillian always the arbiter of taste and Hannah her best friend. When vibrant Lillian dies from anorexia, though, Hannah is left feeling uncertain of herself. Lillian’s ghost has stuck around, though, and only Hannah can see her. Little by little, they realize that they have information about the murders that are terrifying their suburban town, and Hannah puts the pieces together.

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffThe atmosphere of Paper Valentine is spot-on: spooky in a heat-dazed, summer-tranced kind of way. In the mornings, Hannah walks her little sister, Ariel,  to music camp, where she runs into Finny Boone, who’s there for summer school. Hannah’s known Finny since elementary school, but never really spoken to him—he has a reputation for being a bit of a delinquent. Once, though, Finny stuck up for Hannah and she’s never forgotten it. She finds herself drawn to him, and he turns out to be a sweetheart. Plus, it’s super convenient to have a very tall/strong boyfriend when there’s a serial killer on the loose, amiright?

Paper Valentine does pretty well in terms of its component parts. The scenes of Hannah and Lillian’s friendship, and their clique, are perfectly-pitched psychodrama; the scenes of Hannah and Finny’s burgeoning friendship and romance are touching; and the throughline of the serial killer mystery is fairly satisfying. It’s just that there are a LOT of them and, for me, the book felt like it didn’t go quite deep enough into any of them to fully inhabit them. Hannah and Lillian’s friendship isn’t actually anything you’ve not seen before; Finny is your quintessential gentle giant character; and the murder mystery element, while dramatic, felt more like backdrop than narrative backbone.

I felt like Paper Valentine itself was the ghost of a few different books combined and it couldn’t decide what should be in the foreground and what in the background: are the serial murders just a backdrop against which to tell the story of Hannah’s recovery from a trauma? Or, is Hannah’s grief the backdrop against which the murders spur her to start a new relationship? It isn’t really clear, and, as such, I wasn’t quite sure what the stakes were. I enjoyed the book—Yovanoff is a solid writer, and the world she built is evocative and interesting—but each element gets about the same amount of development, and the result is a competent book that feels like a bit of a flatline. If one or two of these elements could have fallen to the background, leaving room for more development of one or two others, it would have had the peaks and valleys I craved by the end.

Lillian is the most vivid character and she haunts Paper Valentine as she does Hannah. I like the idea (if this was intentional), but the effect is still that Hannah seems lackluster. And, as in Pretty Little Liars, I’m left wondering what’s to like about these control-freak-mean-girls. I didn’t mind that there’s never really an explanation of whether ghosts are, like, a thing in the world of this book, or if it’s just Lillian, but it’s definitely one more thing the story skates on the surface of. Overall, I enjoyed the book as it unfolded, but found myself unable to remember much about it besides the outfits when it was over.

received from: the library

An Edinburgh Reading List

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

by Tessa

If you are reading this the day it is being posted, then know that R & I are, as your eyes scan these words, fulfilling a friendship-long dream of visiting Scotland together, and celebrating her birthday along the way as well! (Happy future birthday, R!!)

In preparation for the trip I made myself a reading list of books set in Edinburgh. Of course, I only managed to read a couple of them, but I do plan to go back and finish the others someday.  Maybe you also have a Scottish-themed reading itch to scratch?  If so, I submit these titles for your perusal.


My method for finding them was a subject search in my library catalog so this is by no means a be-all, end-all list of Edinburgh fiction.  And it is not YA-specific.



The Gooseberry / Odd Girl Out by Joan Lingard

This is the only YA book on my list, and the only one that doesn’t have to do with romance or murder. Just a solid coming-of-age story. Poor old Gooseberry Ellie is true to herself even though she doesn’t really know what that means just yet, and her mom has to go and marry some boring old guy who sells insurance and lives in a bungalow, taking E. away from her street and her friends and her father figure, an old Czech pianist who is giving her lessons.


Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin

I felt obligated to read at least one Ian Rankin book before I went to Edinburgh (again). This is the first in his series about a hard-drinking Detective Inspector working in that city.  My Goodreads notes were thus: “I am left wondering what drug has a toffee apple smell. Spell it out for us squares, Rankin!  Also, I want to note that I figured it out on p. 150 and Rebus did on p. 200. But I was struggling with much less emotional baggage than he.”

Instead of reading more of these, I opted to watch the first season of Rebus and it was enjoyable, but I think Prime Suspect may have spoiled most other UK crime shows for me.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch more, though.


The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill

A serendipitous find for me – I had to weed it from my library’s fiction collection due space and circulation issues 😥 , but ended up reading it, :D.

It’s a delicate story combining historical fiction, detection, metaphysics, the devil, fear, secret societies, gruesome murder, and religious conspiracy. Something for everyone.

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Boswell In Search of a Wife, 1766-69 by James Boswell

If you’re into history and diaries and affable cads, do yourself a favor and visit the diaries of James Boswell. At least read this Smithsonian article about him (but, spoiler alert, not if you want to keep the romantic notions of a happy marriage brought on by this section of diaries intact).

Boswell is quite famous for chronicling his life (and Sam Johnston’s life) through diaries. And here Yale collects his diaries, letters and other correspondence to show his feverish attachments and pursuits of various ladies in an attempt to find a wife / soothe his libido. This is also the period where he’s establishing himself as a lawyer via the Douglas case and being obsessed with the Corsicans. Any time one reads of Boswell one hears of his need for strong father figures, as if to replace his fractious relationship to his own father, and this is borne out in watching him through his letters. He is devoted to General Paoli of Corsica. When he is in London to cure his venereal disease before marrying he repeatedly moves apartments to be closer to various powerful friends as if to soak up their approbation and aura of power.

He’s witty and as truthful as he can be in representing his whims. It’s enchanting to be put into the times and watch him ordering post-chaises to take him around town, worrying about the entailment of the estate of Auchinleck (which can now be rented out for a holiday, true story) and fretting about the hot and cold reactions of an heiress he’s courting while at the same time he is supporting a married mistress who has bore him a daughter, getting drunk and sleeping with whores (and getting infected with who knows what), and fielding letters from his lady-love in Amsterdam (an author herself!).

Boswell never loses hope for the power of true love, even as he realizes he is usually in the throes of fickle lust, and even as he sabotages his own intentions for a strong relationship by getting drunk and sleeping with other women. He has feverish periods of happiness and low periods of melancholy.  Here are just a few examples from his own mouth:

28 APRIL 1766: “I write to you while the delirium is really existing. In short, Sir, the gardener’s daughter who was named for my mother, and has for some time been in the family as a chambermaid is so very pretty that I am entirely captivated by her. Besides my principle of never debauching an innocent girl, my regard for her father, a worthy man of uncommon abilities, retrains me from forming the least licentious thought against her. And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her. …I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am now. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance.”

17 MAY 1766. “…my love for the handsome chambermaid is already like a dream that is past.”

19 JANUARY 1768: “I was so happy with Jeany Kinnaird that I very philosophically reasoned that there was to me so much virtue mixed with licentious love that perhaps I might be privilege. For it made me humane, polite, generous. But then lawful love with a woman I really like would make me still better.”

“THURSDAY 15 JUNE [1769]. Mrs. Fullarton and her son, Snady Tait, Drs. Gregory and Austin, and Willy Wallace dined with us. I was not well, and in very bad spirits. At such times all the varnish of life is off, and I see it as it really is. Or why not may it be that there is a shade thrown over it which is merely ideal darkness? All my comfort was piety, my friends, and my lady.”


edinburghcityofthedead   townbelowground

Edinburgh: City of the Dead and The Town Below the Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson

Goodreads sez: “Edinburgh: City of the Dead explores macabre events, paranormal occurrences, haunted locations, occult societies, witchcraft, and even spooky hoaxes to try to discover why Edinburgh is a city that appears to have more than its fair share of supernatural goings-on. Jan-Andrew Henderson brings each tale to life through realistic dramatic reconstructions. By focusing on the scariest incident in each and fleshing out the characters and dialogue, the author adds a terrifying extra dimension to some of the most gory and ghoulish stories imaginable.”

and: “The story of the Town Below the Ground is one of the most disturbing in the annals of Scottish history.” Do tell.



Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

A woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband finds her diary, misinterprets it, and files for divorce (UNHEARD OF). The diary is read in court! ! !  Possibly sort of based on a true story?? More info at Brain Pickings.


The Body Politic by Paul Johnston

According to the header on his site, Paul Johnston is a “crime writer AND poet” (emphasis mine) so really how could this series go wrong?  This book is actually the first in a series featuring a guy (presumably detective) named Quint Dalrymple–again, that name is a really good sign for the book–set in 2020 in what is known as Enlightenment Edinburgh.

As Google Books explains: “The Council’s goal of a “perfect” city-where television, private cars, and popular music are banned, and where crime is virtually nonexistent-is shattered when a brutal serial killer is discovered among their ranks. Can the fearsome Ear, Nose and Throat Man be back to his grisly old tricks? The usually complacent Council is forced to turn to the man they demoted years ago-the irreverent, blues-haunted Quintilian Dalrymple-to catch the gruesome killer.”


The Anatomy Murders, Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner

The title about says it all, but here’s the description from the book’s webpage:

“On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later, police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack the Ripper’s. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve months in order to sell the corpses as “subjects” for dissection. The ensuing criminal investigation into the “Anatomy Murders” raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh’s back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public from cold-blooded murder.”

There are also 2 movies about Burke and Hare.  This is the one I plan to watch, because Simon Pegg:



One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2) by Kate Atkinson

“Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit.”Goodreads


The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

This could be a (great) time travel romance…

“In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth.” – Author Description


The Trouble with Magic (Magic #3) by Patricia Rice

There is no way I could improve on this hook:

“Felicity Malcolm Childe’s gift for experiencing visions through touch has always felt more like a curse than a blessing, so she covers herself from head to toe. Only the maddeningly handsome Ewen Ives provokes tingles of pleasure rather than pain, but he is already betrothed. Her last hope is to go to Scotland to find the ancient book of spells that could free her from the burden of this gift.”


Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple

SF Reviews dot net says it’s a “short and surprisingly grisly urban fantasy” about a guy who comes to Edinburgh to live with his Grandma, busk, and escape his life of drugs in Minneapolis.  When the Fringe Festival starts he realizes he can see the terrifying fey folk.

Count me in.

Slinging Lattes On Demon Wings

A Review of On Demon Wings: Experiment in Terror #5 by Karina Halle

Metal Blonde Books, 2012

By REBECCA, October 22, 2012

On Demon Wings Experiment in Terror Karina Halle

NOTE: On Demon Wings is the 5th book in the Experiment in Terror Series and this review contains spoilers for previous books in the series. If you haven’t already done so, check out my reviews of Darkhouse, Red FoxDead Sky Morning, and Lying Season before reading.


Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister who quickly becomes MVP

Maximus: An old friend of Dex’s who sweeps in claiming some ghost-y know-how

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

the hook

How can you escape the things that haunt you . . . if they’re inside you to begin with BWAH HA HAH!?!


Aaaaaaah! In On Demon Wings, Karina Halle’s fifth chilling installment of the Experiment in Terror series, fear moves from the outside in. In the first three books, Dex and Perry were filming episodes of their web ghost hunting show and were plagued by various ghosts, spirits, and unsavory beasties. In the fourth book, The Lying Season, shit got really personal, and ghosts from Dex’s past (and a girlfriend from his present) wreaked havoc on Dex and Perry’s fledgling relationship.

Cthulhu latte!

Cthulhu latte!

Now, several months after fleeing Seattle and strife with Dex, Perry has given up ghost hunting and taken a job at a coffee shop, trying to make normal (read: non-haunted) friends, hanging out with her sister, and whipping milk into a variety of concoctions for exacting customers. She’s messed up by the whole ordeal in Seattle, but she’s trying her damnedest to pick up the pieces. But, as always happens when we’re trying to scrape together the fragments of our shattered psyches, Perry begins feeling extremely ill, and seeing things, like girls at concerts with shark smiles.

Into this mess walks our good friend, Maximus, from Red Fox, Dex’s college buddy and former bandmate who took quite a shine to Perry. He’s just moved to Portland and wants to convince Perry to return to the show, with him instead of with Dex. Perry begins to feel worse and worse,  she is convinced that her house is haunted, and whatever is there is slowly driving her crazy.

what were this book’s expectations? did it live up to them?

On Demon Wings is the best kind of horror story: one where both the characters and the reader are, for most of the book, unsure whether the supernatural occurrences are real or not. But it’s with On Demon Wings that readers can be sure of one thing—that the Experiment in Terror series is one of most unique, spooky, and entertaining rides out there. Where The Lying Season shifted the plot arc that the first three books used, On Demon Wings breaks from it completely, and it is a perfectly calculated move. Instead of the controlled chaos we found in the first three books, and the high-energy, romantic chaos in book four, book five is mired deep in Perry’s psyche. Here is a dark, crawling pit of despair and fear into which Perry has fallen and she can’t get up.

Perry Palomino has fallen and she can't get up

Halle has taken her recipe of sexual tension + terror, added a heaping cup of heartbreak, a sprinkle of neuroses, and stirred it to a boil. In Dex’s absence, Maximus is the perfect leading man: comforting and take-charge (in a Southern kind of way), Maximus takes the pressure off Perry and worms his way into her confidence. It was sad to have an Experiment in Terror book where Dex was mostly absent, but it was a much-needed absence. In addition to feeling realistic in the scope of the series (which is gloriously long enough to leave room for a little leavening), Dex’s absence makes the reader feel as abandoned and at sea as Perry does, heightening the relief we feel when he arrives late in the book.

Practical Magic Alice HoffmanThe pleasantest surprise of On Demon Wings is that Ada finally gets a chance to live up to the promises of awesomeness the first four books made on her behalf. Even as their parents think that Perry is cracking up and Maximus proves that sometimes tall, handsome, Southern redheads aren’t all that they seem, Ada keeps a level head and refuses to give up on Perry. I love a good sisters-battling-evil-book, and Ada totally pulls her weight and looks out for Perry. Sisters!

Don’t worry your pretty little heads, though, Dex isn’t gone from On Demon Wings completely. He shows up, as Dex is wont to do, at a dramatic moment and, well, makes it more dramatic. And, of course, it ends on what we in the business would call a cliffhanger. Pfew, Perry really needs a vacation.

Old Blood Experiment in Terror Karina HalleSo, now you’re all caught up with the main books in the series. The sixth Experiment in Terror book—Into the Hollow—will be released this year (publication has been pushed back a bit). You can check out the cover reveal for Into the Hollow HERE. But, lest you fall over the cliff before it’s released, you should also check out Old Blood (EIT 5.5), the novella about Pippa, the “crazy clown lady,” and The Dex-Files (EIT 5.7), a novel composed of scenes from the series told from Dex’s perspective.

What has been your favorite Experiment in Terror book so far?

Cover Reveal! Karina Halle’s Into The Hollow: Experiment in Terror #6

BONUS: Review of Lying Season: EIT #4

By REBECCA, August 31, 2012

If you read Crunchings & Munchings regularly, you know that I love Karina Halle’s Experiment in Terror series. It is my sublimest delight, then, to reveal to you the brand spanking new cover of the newest Experiment in Terror novel, number 6: Into the Hollow! Check out this totally gorgeous creepfest:

Into the Hollow Experiment in Terror 6 Karina Halle Cover Reveal

Here’s the deal:

“Perry Palomino has fought her demons—and won—but the battle is far from over. She’s now left broken and on her own, leaving behind her life and family in Portland to focus on giving Dex Foray—and the Experiment in Terror show—a second chance. But their past mistakes continue to tease and test their relationship, as does the wild and desolate terrain of the Canadian Rockies. The snow-covered peaks and ravenous forests hide an urban legend too unbelievably frightening to be true and the only way the duo has a chance of surviving is if Perry can let in the very man who sent her to hell and back.” (from Goodreads)

Gaaahh! First of all, few things strike terror into my heart like a quaint log cabin isolated enough so that no one could hear me scream when one of those über pointy icicles just happened to break off and lodge itself in my throat, melting to leave no evidence behind even when I’m found at the first thaw by an adorably-in-love couple who have rented the cabin for a romantic getaway. Maybe they’ll name their firstborn after me and I won’t be entirely forgotten out there in the cold.

Anyhoo, this is a gorgeous cover (by Najila Qamber)—no surprise, since the entire series’ covers have been awesome: one striking image with a supersaturated color. I especially like the sky in this one. That demented green is so much creepier than the blue tinge that snow sometimes gets . . . God, I am freaking myself out.

Expected Publication: October 23rd (by Metal Blonde Books), right in time for Halloween, y’all!

The Experiment in Terror Series, Karina Halle

Want to catch up? Lucky you: I’ve reviewed Experiment in Terror 1-3

here,                                             here,                                              and here!

Darkhouse Experiment in Terror 1 Karina Halle  Red Fox Experiment in Terror 2 Karina Halle  Dead Sky Morning Experiment in Terror 3 Karina Halle

And now, here is a very brief review of Experiment In Terror #4, Lying Season. It’s very brief because the meat of the book’s drama is interpersonal and I would really be ruining it for you if I give any of that drama away. But I promise: it is très, très, dramatic.

Lying Season Experiment In Terror 4 Karina Halle


Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

Jennifer: Wine Babe (yes, that’s a thing), Dex’s girlfriend, and all-around overly attractive person

Rebecca: Jennifer’s fellow Wine Babe, equally overly attractive, but also an overly-awesome friend to Dex and new friend to Perry

Assorted ghosts, animals, and other wee beasties

the hook

“Ama­teur ghost-hunter Perry Palomino has bat­tled ghosts, fought off skin­walk­ers and skirted the fine line between life and death. But can she sur­vive bunk­ing down in Seat­tle for a week with her partner (and man she secretly loves) Dex and his perfect girl­friend, Jennifer? And can she do so while being tor­mented by a mali­cious spirit from Dex’s increas­ingly shady past? With love and life in the bal­ance, Perry must dis­cover the truth among the lies or risk los­ing every­thing she’s ever cared about.” (from Goodreads)


Darkhouse Experiment in Terror 1 Karina HalleLying Season has a different form than any of the previous three experiments in terror because rather than Perry and Dex alone together in an intense ghost-hunting experience away from either of their daily lives, here they face the complete and total horror of trying to coexist in the space of Dex’s daily life, girlfriend, dog, and all. (And, again, I’m not going to give anything away, here, because much of the delight of Lying Season is watching the interpersonal drama unfold.)

So, Perry is staying in Dex and Jennifer’s apartment in Seattle so that she and Dex can film an episode in Riverside Mental Hospital and Perry can meet the whole Shownet team (the company that runs their show, as well as several others, including Wine Babes, the show that Jennifer and Rebecca host) at the annual Christmas party. Allow me to summarize: Sexual tension + mental hospitals + ghosts of days past + antipsychotics = well, Christmas, I guess, but also . . . TROUBLE. Trouble for Perry’s heart and trouble for Dex’s sanity, not to mention major, major trouble for everyone’s relationships. Oh, and did I mention the complete sizzle that seems to pass between Perry and Dex any time they’re near enough for energy to arc? Well, it’s pretty clear to anyone in proximity, including Jennifer.

Dead Sky Morning Experiment in Terror 3 Karina HalleAfter incidents at Riverside Mental Hospital suggest to Perry that perhaps Dex’s ability to sense ghosts is closer to her own than he has ever let on, she undertakes an experiment of her own . . . an experiment that causes more terror than any she and Dex have undergone so far. Did that sound cryptic and like it might reference Perry and Dex’s ever-intensifying relationship as well as the spirit world? Well, it is and it does and if you’re not reading Halle’s Experiment in Terror series yet for any reason other than you don’t think you could possibly stand how awesomescary they are then I doubt your sanity.

Have you read all five Experiment in Terror books and are wondering if there is anything to tide you over for the next weeks until Into the Hollow comes out? Well, you are in luck again! You should clearly go read the following:

The Benson Experiment in Terror 2.5 Karina HalleThe Benson a novella that is Experiment in Terror 2.5, between Darkhouse and Red Fox. You can download it for free here.

Old Blood Experiment in Terror 5.5 Karina HalleOld Blood: Experiment in Terror 5.5, which tells the story of Pippa (aka The Creepy Clown Lady) that she begins to communicate to Perry in Lying Season.

The Dex-Files Experiment in Terror 5.7 Karina HalleThe Dex-Files: Experiment in Terror 5.7. This is a companion novel to the series, composed of re-tellings of scenes from the other books, but told from Dex’s perspective. (Note: this means that here be spoilers for the other books in the series, so be warned.) I love how Dex’s profile-silhouette is kind of Sherlock Holmsian.

Can’t wait for Into the Hollow! Check back soon for the review of the fifth Experiment in Terror novel, On Demon Wings. Stay alive, friends. It’s scary out there.

Experiment in Terror Supernatural Sam

Happy Friday the 13th!: Dead Sky Morning

A Review of Dead Sky Morning (Experiment in Terror #3) by Karina Halle

Metal Blonde Books, 2011

By REBECCA, July 13, 2012

Happy Friday the 13th, Crunchers and Munchers! Both the fear of Fridays and the fear of the number 13 have been around for a while. Put them together and you get a whole new slew of folks with what is know as friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga is the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named) or paraskevidekatriaphobia—that is, fear of Friday the 13th. Apparently one effect of this phobia is the loss of between 8 and 9 million dollars in business on Friday the 13ths. Notable people who died on Friday the 13th include Chet Baker, Tupac Shakur, and Julia Child—now that is the cooking show with a theme song that I want to see! Here’s a bit of horror in honor of the day. Read on, if you dare.

Dead Sky Morning Karina Halle Experiment in Terror

NOTE: This is the third book in the Experiment in Terror series, so you should read the first two books first! They are amazing! Here are my reviews of books 1 and 2: Darkhouse and Red Fox.

Also, Karina Halle wrote a short story called “The Benson” that is Experiment in Terror # 2.5 that can be read between Red Fox and Dead Sky Morning. You can download “The Benson” for FREE here, although it’s certainly not necessary to understanding Dead Sky Morning.


Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister with questionable taste in boys

and more creepies that you’ll have to read about . . .


The weekend of her 23rd birthday finds Perry and Dex filming the next episode of “Experiment in Terror” camping on an island off the coast of British Columbia that used to serve as a leper colony. Perry is haunted not only by spirits of lepers past but also by an “anonymous” commenter on the EIT website who seems to hate her. Dex . . . well, it turns out that Dex has his own problems, and they’re spelled J-E-N-N.


As I mentioned in my reviews of Darkhouse and Red Fox, I began the Experiment in Terror series attempting to guard against freaking myself out by only reading them during the daylight hours. While that worked for Darkhouse, by the time I was halfway through Red Fox I knew I’d be reading once the sun had set. By the time I got to Dead Sky Morning, I was reading it in the middle of a freaking thunderstorm (that was back in the Spring, before the East Coast turned into a tropical wasteland) at 3am because IT’S SO GOOD I COULDN’T STOP!

Dead Sky Morning is the darkest of the three books so far and, as you know if you read the first two, that’s really saying something. For one thing, Perry has admitted her feelings for Dex to herself. That means that she (and the reader!) is able to absolutely marinate in the feelings of simultaneous attraction (love) and repulsion (he has a girlfriend and still flirts with Perry) that Perry feels for Dex. So, already the backdrop for the supernatural part of the book is a little tortured. On top of that, the majority of Dead Sky Morning takes place on D’Arcy Island, so Perry and Dex are totally alone, upping the sexual tension/torture factor astronomically.

D'Arcy Island

D’Arcy Island

At the turn of the century on D’Arcy Island, Chinese lepers were contained and then abandoned by the government (no surprise there), which dropped off supplies (and coffins) every now and again, but finally allowed some 50 people to die and then tried to cover it up. Needless to say, that’s a lot of potential creepyness for Perry and Dex to mine for the next episode of “Experiment in Terror.” However, when their boat is sabotaged, stranding them alone on the island, Perry and Dex get a lot more than they bargained for.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Holy rotting corpses, Batman, Dead Sky Morning is amazing. Intention #1: to write a super scary book. Success! Intention #2: to make me fall more in love with Perry and Dex than ever before. Success! Intention #3: to up the stakes in their relationship to the point where I wanted to rip my own face off because I couldn’t immediately start the sequel. Success! Well played, Ms. Halle. Well played.

So, firstly, I think the plot in Dead Sky Morning is the most interesting so far. The true story of the abandoned lepers, the lack of available info on the history of the island, and the revelation of what went on there are all captivating. Halle also does an amazing job slowly and subtly building the creepfest atmosphere of the island itself, not to mention it’s, er, otherworldly inhabitants.

“Now that D’Arcy Island was close enough to make out the little details, the nausea I was feeling down below was starting to creep up my throat again.

It looked like any other island that you’d see in the Pacific Northwest. But the strange part was, you knew it wasn’t. Even if no one had told me what had gone on there, the feeling of dread that washed over me, the animosity that just reeked out of the island’s pores, was unmistakable.

. . . From what I could see it didn’t look like much was out there. We were close to the island but not close enough to be hitting any rocks. But the water was rippling like a few opposing currents were working the surface.

. . . We were pretty much in the slight cove and the shore wasn’t too far away. I could make out the individual branches of the fir trees, the glowing green of the ferns nestled at the bottom sparkling in golden rays of sunlight, the smooth shapes of the rocks that made up the shoreline. Seagulls darted to and fro and with the sound of the motor at a minimum, I could hear the waves rolling the rocks in a rhythmic manner. It seemed so peaceful, so idyllic but . . .

Someone was watching us” (114-116).

Alongside the battle to film material for the show and also not die, Perry and Dex slowly come apart at the seams. Perry starts acting like she’s wearing the ring of doom around her neck (nerd alert), picking fights with Dex and generally being bloody, and Dex, for all his promises to keep Perry safe, is acting as if he thinks maybe it’s Perry  who’s crazy. Seriously, the stakes are really raised here, and Perry and Dex’s relationship is put to many a test.

personal disclosure

So, after wanting to punch myself in the face after reading books 1 and 2 in the series because I didn’t plan ahead and therefore had to wait to read the next installment, I went ahead and ordered the 4th Experiment in Terror book, Lying Season, right when I started Dead Sky Morning so that it would arrive in a few days, just in time for me to take it on vacation. This was both so that I could read it immediately, and also because I wanted to capitalize on sharing a room with my mom, thus lessening the fear factor. But, but, but, Amazon totally screwed me and delayed shipping Lying Season until I’d already left on vacation, depriving me of a desperately needed sequel and leaving me totally high and dry on the book front when I unexpectedly finished my plane book on the first day of the trip. This led to me wandering the streets of Charleston begging people to help me find a bookstore. Anyway, it was bad news, even though I eventually found a bookstore, read Emma Bull’s wonderful War For the Oaks (you can read my review here), and got to have Lying Season waiting for me when I got home. But still, it was stressful. The point is: do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes.


The Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (2009). First of all, such a totally awesome title. Mary lives in a fenced-in clearing in the forest where she and the other townspeople keep watch for when The Unconsecrated come. If they break the skin, you’re infected and become one of them—the only way to keep safe, the Sisterhood insists, is constant vigilance. But when The Unconsecrated breach the walls, Mary learns that their little clearing isn’t the last stronghold on earth; there is a world beyond these trees . . . if she can only reach it.The Marbury Lens Andrew Smith

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (2010). When California teenager Jack dons the strange glasses given to him by a stranger in a London pub, he is transported to Marbury, a war-torn land where he must fight for his life and the lives of his friends. Love, love, love—my review is here.

Locke and Key Joe Hill Gabriel Rodriquez

Locke and Key, volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2008). This graphic novel tells the story of Keyhouse, a New England mansion (on Lovecraft Island, in case you weren’t sure horrible things were going to happen) where doors open into different worlds. After the Locke family patriarch is brutally murdered, his bereft family returns to his childhood home and begins to delve into its mysteries. Gorgeous color!

procured from: bought

Hell Yeah, Perry Palomino!: Darkhouse

Sam Winchester Supernatural

Review of Darkhouse: An Experiment in Terror #1

Metal Blonde Books, 2011

By REBECCA, April 23, 2012

Darkhouse An Experiment in Terror Karina Halle  Darkhouse An Experiment in Terror Karina Halle


Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister with questionable taste in boys

Matt & Tony: Perry’s dude-brah cousins

Uncle Al: Perry’s uncle and owner of the darkhouse who believes it’s evil


John Henry Fuseli The NightmareTwenty-two year old Perry Palomino is marking time as a receptionist, unsure what she wants to do with her life, and preoccupied by horrific nightmares. When she meets mysterious, camera-wielding Dex in her uncle’s abandoned lighthouse one night, she senses that things might start to change. But when she joins forces with Dex and returns to the lighthouse as a ghost hunter, she doesn’t imagine that she will find herself living her own nightmares . . . while she’s awake.


Portland Oregon White Stag signPerry’s had a rough time: her self-esteem is shot because she was heavy in high school and people are horrible, she has a history of depression and drugs, she can’t decide what she wants to do with her life, she’s currently living back home with her parents in Portland, and she’s a crap receptionist. Oh, and she may or may not be able to communicate with the dead. We’ve all been there, right?

But, is Darkhouse realism + ghosts? Or an unreliable narrator? One of the things I most enjoyed about the book is that Halle sets up the fact that Perry has used a lot of drugs and that Dex struggles with mental health, which allows for the possibility that this is a world in which ghosts are real. But it also keeps open the possibility that Perry and Dex are engaged in a tense folie à deux that could break open at any moment.

Pike Place Market SeattleSpeaking of Perry and Dex! Dex has a girlfriend in Seattle, but he’s obviously into Perry, and rightly so: she’s a brave, smart, sexy smartass. Perry isn’t sure what to think about Dex. It isn’t that she likes him, precisely . . . right? But she feels drawn to him even as she finds him infuriatingly private and a bit patronizing. Add a generous helping of terror, the dark, feeling like you might be going insane, and a shared taste in music, and, well, cue the tension, folks!

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Supernatural Dean Winchester scaredDarkhouse is legit scary, y’all. Not unpleasantly scary, but like one of the scarier episodes of Supernatural scary. Like, maybe that episode in the abandoned mental institution. What I like so much about the scary-factor, though, is that it isn’t all the time. (I was a bit creeped out when, at one point, I googled “Darkhouse” and what came up was a SPEARING supply store.)

“As I stood there on the cold, hard tiles, I felt the presence of someone behind me. Strange, I didn’t see anyone when I came in, nor did I hear the door open or close behind me.

A creepy feeling swept over me. I remembered the dream I had. Suddenly, I felt inexplicably afraid.

I hesitated at turning around. In my ‘overactive imagination’ I thought I would see something horrible, but I did it anyway.

There actually was someone there sitting on the white lobby couch. It was an old lady who looked like she was trying disastrously hard to be a young lady. She must have been about eighty, wearing a red taffeta dress adorned with tiny pom poms and outlandish makeup smeared across her face. . . . and most disturbing of all, red lipstick that was half on her lips and half on her teeth. She sat there smiling broadly at me. Frozen, it seemed, or locked in time. . . .

I walked quickly inside [the elevator] and hit the close button before anything else. I looked up at her as the doors closed. She was as still as ever, the wide, maniacal-looking grin still stretched across her face. Her eyes, white and unblinking, did not match her smile” (10-11).

The scary scenes are scary, but then there are other scenes—family scenes, twentysomething angsty scenes, funny scenes—that are the meat of the character-development and world building. This makes for such an enjoyable read because you can really sink into the different moods of each scene without white-knuckling the book and holding your breath during the humor because you’re convinced that the book is about to go “gotcha!” and do something terrifying, like in real life a horror movie.

My favorite scene takes place early in the novel, in a gas station as Perry and Dex are driving to the lighthouse to shoot the first episode of their ghost hunting show (which is called “Experiment in Terror”). Perry runs into a friend from college and a boy she knew in high school who make her feel like shit. It’s a short scene, but it establishes both Perry and Dex’s characters so well, and gives us a glimpse into the extent of the damage that Perry sustained due to the fact that a large number of people are nasty jerkfaces.

The writing is cinematic, particularly in the action sequences, and the dialogue is funny and snarky, immersing you in the story from the first scene.

Red Fox Experiment in Terror Karina HalleDarkhouse is a great read and an awesome start to a series—I was forced to immediately buy the second book because it was addictive (see my full review here). I love that Perry is in her early twenties and Dex his early thirties. It’s definitely YA, but it’s a really nice change to have characters with different options and a bit more life under their stylish nineties belts. And, of course, I love a good scary story. I can’t wait to read what happens next! (Here are the reviews of books 3 and 4 here and here.)


Dream Catcher Trilogy Wake Lisa McMann  Fade Dream Catcher trilogy Lisa McMann  Gone Dream Catcher trilogy Lisa McMann

Dream Catcher trilogy by Lisa McMann (Wake, 2008; Fade, 2009; Gone, 2010). Janie can’t help it: she gets sucked into other people’s dreams. When she falls into a different kind of terrifying nightmare, Janie isn’t just an observer—now she has a part to play.

The Marbury Lens Andrew Smith

The Marbury Lens (The Marbury Lens #1) by Andrew Smith (2010). When California teenager Jack dons the strange glasses given to him by a stranger in a London pub, he is transported to Marbury, a war-torn land where he must fight for his life and the lives of his friends. Love, love, love—my review is here.

Draw the Dark Ilsa J. Bick

Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick (2010). Christian’s parents disappeared when he was young, and ever since he has sketched obsessively, trying to remember his mother. But Christian has a nasty habit of drawing the thoughts of the people close to him. When Christian finds himself near an old man whose thoughts contain terrifying secrets, Christian’s drawings threaten to uncover an unsavory chapter in the story of his small town.

personal disclosure

Karina Halle is a music journalist as well as a novelist (Metal Blonde Books, ya know?)—indeed, the title of the series, “Experiment in Terror,” is from a track by Mike Patton’s (other) band, Fantômas (taken from the title of an early 1960s horror movie). Karina has interviewed Chris Cornell and Liz Phair and hung out with Slayer, which automatically makes her likely to be quite awesome (and like maybe she would appreciate the story of how I almost died at a Slayer concert in Detroit). In fact, you can check out a (super good) playlist for the Experiment in Terror series here. The point, dear friends, is that although there isn’t much explicit music-talk in Darkhouse—we know that Perry is into music from her Bad Religion and Alice in Chains t-shirts, etc.—the book still evoked a really musical feeling to me, almost as if the mood it set spun a soundtrack in my mind. And I love that. So, without further ado, the song that Darkhouse most evoked for me? Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates”:

Procured from: birthday present (thanks mom and dad!)

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