There’s something to say about a piece of literature that pulls every emotion out of you over the course of reading. I’ve only read a handful of books that have managed to do that for me, and when I came across this book earlier this year, I couldn’t believe that not only did this book just happen to exist in the same timeline that I did, but that it was the debut from a very talented author. The only thing that I regret is the fact that it’s taken me so long to get around to reviewing it, as well as sharing the amazing interview that I was able to snag with Dawn Adams Cole, the author.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite reads of the year, Drops of Cerulean, and see what Dawn Adams Cole had to say about it, her process, and what she hopes readers gain from her words.
Ever picked up a graphic novel that was as intriguing as it was confusing and left you sitting there like wtf?
Let’s talk about A Walk Through Hell, Volume #1
When two fellow agents go missing inside a Long Beach warehouse, Shaw and McGregor are sent to investigate. But what they find waiting is far from routine, as the local police have already discovered to their cost. Before the night is out, our heroes will encounter terror beyond their most appalling nightmares—in a place where the night may never end at all.
A Walk Through Hell Vol. 1
It’s hard to know where to start with this graphic novel, so I think I should start with the things A Walk Through Hell Volume 1 succeeded at:
Premise, Themes, and Characters
A Walk Through Hell as it is in its first volume follows two FBI agents along a dual-timeline of events, one beginning with the investigation of a series of grizzly child disappearances, the other being the disappearance of two fellow agents in a mysterious warehouse that turns out to be more than it appears. They end up trapped there as the story bounces back and forth between the investigation and their haunting and downright gory journey through the warehouse. A fever dream of confusion, paranoia, and suspicion follows them. Is the warehouse and its horrific contents even a real place? Are they dead? Being punished?
Shaw and McGregor certainly don’t know, and by the end of volume one, neither will you.
It’s cop thriller meets psychological horror in a melding of themes that would butter any horror/thriller fan’s biscuit, converging in a weird, twisted plot line that reveals a monumental secret and is loaded with gore, time-relevant political and social commentary, and the lingering question over whether or not the best intentions justify horrific means.
Themes & Characters:
Throughout A Walk Through Hell, I thought the characters fit really well into these elements, particularly the two main agents Shaw and McGregor who end up being interesting ideological foils to each other. Shaw, who is still hung up by their previous case and on a steady roll to burning out while being fairly done with everything going on around them. Then there’s McGregor, who is more idealistic if not acidicaly aware of the current social climate that has himself (a gay man) and other marginalized people in the shitter as far as social standing goes. I liked McGregor and Shaw as a team; it plays up the old-hat, new blood dynamic that a lot of cop dramas go for, with a fresh take on it. While McGregor and Shaw certainly are meant to represent certain archetypes, I enjoyed the depth they were given and they bring out each other’s best and worst traits, playing up each other nicely.
Side by side the jarring investigation Shaw and McGregor work through is relevant sociopolitical commentary: women in male-dominated fields, gay men in those same fields, racism and the rise of fascism in a supposed democratic nation, are among the day-to-day hell hurdles that Shaw and McGregor have to deal with in addition to the actual hell they experience in the warehouse, and like any good horror/thriller, I felt the nods to bigger themes outside of gratuitous gore was a plus.
Where it all Falls Apart
Where A Walk Through Hell has an arguably interesting premise, compelling characters, and (very) pretty artwork, this first volume as a whole was all over the place. When reading a thriller, particularly one based in a police/FBI investigative atmosphere, there’s going to be questions unanswered, confusion, etc. It’s a part of the genre. The problem with A Walk Through Hell is by having two intertwined plot lines relevant to each other, writing needs to be tight and it was sloppy at best, which did not help for the cohesion of plot at all. At times this dual-timeline telling felt gimmicky at the detriment to fully enjoying the story.
Furthermore, its themes, in theory, are great but lack in execution. The presence of conversations about how McGregor feels about racism, for example, is appreciated, but ham-fisted as if to say ‘look, this story will have politics. Look at all the politics. Did I mention politics?’ Showing v. telling, etc., etc. For a graphic novel, I expect to be shown more than I am told, and I’m fully invested in the idea that the backdrop of the sociopolitical themes of A Walk Through Hell could have been smoothed out to feel like they actually belonged in the story as opposed to an afterthought or something sprinkled on top to make it a little more intriguing or patronizingly appealing to readers who are invested in sociopolitical issues outside of fiction.
A Walk Through Hell has promise, I’ll give it that. Despite the messiness of the writing in this first volume, I want to know what happens in subsequent volumes, which I think is a success to say that I’m still intrigued even if mildly put off by how disorganized the actual method of storytelling was.
Big thank you to NetGalley & Diamond Book Distributors for a copy of A Walk Through Hell Vol. 1
A Walk Through Hell is for you if: you’re into cop drama/thrillers with a heavy hit of horror, enjoy gore, like political commentary in your horror/thriller, want to be held on tenterhooks while you read, and eat up psychological foolery.
Warnings for this Volume: Gore, physical and sexual violence.
My idea of poetry
stems largely from high school English class, sloughing through sonnets and
unpleasantly dense prose. When I picked up Sparks of Phoenix it was in an
exercise to see if I could break the preconception that required reading had
instilled in me about poetry, poets, and what a person could take away from a
collection of poetry.
I was not
Let’s take a look at Sparks of Phoenix, by Najwa Zebian.
Sometimes you come across books that are
pretty; other times you come across books that are downright beautiful.
Let’s talk about The Belles.
Heavily inspired by New Orléans culture and French roots, The Belles is a decadent young adult fantasy that enticed me first with the sheer beauty in which it was written, and then kept me interested with rich world-building, a page-turning plot, and a main character that I couldn’t help but root for. Throw in sprinklings of forbidden love, court secrets, and betrayals I didn’t expect but probably should have, The Belles surprised me by how enjoyable and interesting I found it. From page one I wanted to dive straight into Orléans, experience the lavish balls, explore the colorful cities, and perhaps even book my own appointment at one of the many tea houses through which the Belles complete their beauty work—if I didn’t know the tea houses’ true nature, that is.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I made a couple of Tweets yesterday regarding ARCs—specifically ARCs for books written by/for people of color and the disproportionate number of white ARC reviewers for these books vs. reviews by people of color.
I was finalizing the list of books I wanted to include on my BHM Anticipated Releases Tour (shameless plug for the fun happening next week) and skimming the reviews because I like looking through reviews of books I want to read because I like to get a feel for how a book has been received or perceived; I find it makes me think more when I read through a book.
In browsing the Goodreads pages for the authors/books I’d be including, I noticed a pattern that was mildly annoying until I came across a review on New Kid that solidified the source of my agitation. New Kid is a middle-grade graphic novel written by Jerry Craft with the following blurb:
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
New Kid, Jerry Craft
And yet so many reviews, including the one in question, entirely stripped New Kid of its racial context, hailing it as a universal story about what it means to be a new kid in a strange environment. As I started to pay more attention to who was reviewing the ARCs of this book, I realized the sheer number of the reviewers weren’t black or even biracial reviewers, but white ones.
A Quick CW: I’ll be talking about sexual assault in this post. While nothing goes into graphic detail, please be aware and take care of yourself when choosing to read.
Sexual trauma in YA is nothing new. Underlying or overt themes of sexual assault and abuse are a prevalent topic and their inclusion and execution in teen and YA fiction, be it within books, shows, or movies, is a conversation that I see, but generally don’t engage in often. This is for a number of reasons tending to boil down to the fact that most of the time, there aren’t enough spoons to pull myself through the hundreds of voices sounding that probably don’t need my opinion on what’s a hashed-and-rehashed topic anyway.
Emergency Contact, however, is a book I feel should be discussed.
Spanning the years 1930–2014, Drops of Cerulean chronicles the lives of Ilona, the daughter of a Greek restaurateur, who marries into a prominent Houston family; her son, Cadmus, who becomes a professor and then moves into a retirement home after his husband passes away; and Delphina, an anxiety-ridden woman with a mysterious recurring dream.
Ilona and Cadmus have a falling out when Cadmus is a young man, and before they are able to reconcile, Ilona dies. Cadmus is plagued with guilt and feels responsible for the death of his mother. Two worlds collide when, years later, Delphina comes to understand that she had been Ilona, Cadmus’s mother, in her previous life. Well written and engaging, Drops of Cerulean deals with topics such as socioeconomic class, LGBT rights and acceptance, rebirth, and past-life regression.
Set in Houston and revolving around the city’s ever-changing skyline, Drops of Cerulean is an amazing debut from a gifted writer.
I recently finished the first part of a two-part novel called Drops of Cerulean by Dawn Adams Cole. Usually, especially with an ARC copy of a book, I would wait to write a full review but I have so many thoughts I feel like I need to get some of them to paper while they’re fresh in my mind, so here’s a flash review of the first part of the book to prelude my full review.
Honestly, this book has my heart in a vice-grip, and I love it. The first half, dealing with the lives of mother-son duo Ilona and Cadmus Doyle, is such a rich and emotional display of the complicated family dynamics that plagued pre-and-post Depression generations that I’m not sure I’ve seen a story that feels so authentically from the time period.
With heavy multi-cultural themes (Ilona’s part of the story in part tracks her coming of age as a Greek woman beholden to tradition falling in love with and eventually marrying an Irish Catholic) and the realities of raising and growing up as a gay man spanning the 40’s to 60’s in the case of the young Cadmus, there’s so many interesting, vibrant layers to Drops of Cerulean that I’m doubly excited to see how the second part of the story, which leaves Ilona and focuses once more on Cadmus and a young woman named Delphina, continues these themes or possibly expands into different territories.
Without giving any spoilers, I can easily say that this is looking like one of my favorite reads so for 2019. Keep a look out for a full review once I finish devouring part two.
I went outside of my usual go-to genre for this one, but I’m glad that I did. A YA thriller, The Third Twin was a quick yet engaging, page-turning read that managed to leave me speculating right up to the very end. Every twist felt like it had real stakes attached to it, and none felt contrived.
In particular, I was impressed with how well tension was carried through the whole book. From the beginning, the reveal of the first murder, through the wonder of whether or not it was Alexis or Ava who was responsible for the strange occurrences happening around the girls and the constant question of whether or not Alicia, a girl who shouldn’t exist, was possibly real. All of the reveals to these questions left a real impact.
On the whole, this was a good book, well crafted, and interesting.
ABOUT C.J. OMOLOLU
Cynthia (C.J.) Omololu majored in English at U.C. Santa Barbara because she liked to read, not because she liked to write. Eventually, she discovered that the voices in her head often had interesting things to say.
C.J. Omololu regrettably passed away December 2016. She authored four YA books, including Dirty Little Secrets, Transcendence, and Intuition.
However, it seemed like, through all the scattered words, he simply wanted to know who she was and reassure her that she was safe. She felt that this was very sweet of him, even if his methods of expressing it were primitive at best.
Deep Cosmos, Project Kyle
Deep Cosmos is a science fiction novel written by Project Kyle that explores trauma, friendship, and the growth that can happen when the two collide in the middle of deep space. When Nerd, an operative of the not-so-secret organization known as Deep Cosmos, saves Sophia, a warrior, from his nemesis Doctor Crimson, the pair are immediately thrown into a race to save a universe full of problems. From rouge mercs, to mad scientists, space is far from a peaceful final frontier for Sophia and Nerd. We follow them through daring escapes, intergalactic plagues, and tumultuous pasts that seek to catch up with them at every turn.
Ryan can’t seem to get her memories in order. When she breaks it off with her long-term boyfriend, Corey, she can’t help but feel free. But mysterious events keep Ryan asking, “Just what happened?” After her family moved to Ryton, after Carter goes missing, after Jacob is in the hospital. All of these afters, but Ryan can’t remember the befores. With Harper and Elliot by her side, Ryan can only hope that she does not forget… again. Will Ryan be able to recover her memory to figure out what happened when it all went dark?
As soon as I read this synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this book. I’m a big sucker for memory-related mysteries and this promised to be a book full of them, jam-packed into a psychological thriller that would have me devouring chapter after chapter.
So… When I initially began reading, I couldn’t help but ask, what have I gotten myself into? The preconceived notion that I got from the synopsis was immediately challenged at the start of the first page. It made me want to read more, and the more I read, the more questions I had. I didn’t expect the immediate, gritty murderous POV, and it had me wondering and wanting to find out how it related to Ryan and her circumstances. Where would these stories converge?