Serena’s Review: “Star of the Morning”

"Star of Morning"
Book: “Star of the Morning” by Lynn Kurland

Publishing Info: Berkley Trade, December 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description: Darkness covers the north, since the black mage has begun his assault on the kingdom of Neroche. Legend has it that only the two magical swords held by Neroche’s king can defeat the mage. Now the fate of the Nine Kingdoms rests in the hands of a woman destined to wield one of those blades…

In this land of dragons and mages, warrior maids and magical swords, nothing is as it seems. And Morgan will find that the magic in her blood brings her troubles she cannot face with a sword-and a love more powerful than she has ever imagined.

Review: This book came to me by way of boredom-browsing through the library, a habit that has been met with both good and bad results in the books I ultimately end up with. I chose this one purely on the cover and the description. I have a weakness for the fantasy warrior woman trope, and I’m not ashamed! And as far as this aspect of the story goes, I was definitely satisfied.

We’re introduced to a fully capable Morgan who has years of experience under her belt, isn’t taking back talk from anyone, and demonstrates her abilities repeatedly throughout the book. Often, I find fantasy stories can rely too heavily on telling readers that their heroes are great, all while getting caught up in other plots and never really proving this claim. Morgan is not this. She fights off wild beasts, she trains a lord’s set of guards, she beats up on the king, for heaven’s sake! We are repeatedly shown just how awesome she really is. And I loved it all. What’s even better is that Morgan is aware of her talent. She doesn’t downplay herself and is fully confident in her abilities. If anything, she’s on the arrogant side which plays great for humorous effect.(She regularly complains about how incompetent the king is, unaware that he’s the king, and it’s too much fun).

And it’s not only Morgan who’s aware of her skill. Other characters, male characters, mention and appreciate her skill as well, reinforcing her place as a uniquely skilled swordswoman. Major points for this! It’s always refreshing to read a fantasy novel like this where the female protagonist isn’t punished in any way for being what she is: an extremely talented fighter. She’s just who she is, and that’s enough for everyone around her.

The story is split between Morgan and Miach, the king’s youngest brother and archmage of the realm. Also her love interest. He was given much more time in the story than the plot synopsis indicates. If anything, it’s a dual protagonist set-up between the two. He was also a fun character and what time we spent with him was enjoyable. While I probably enjoyed Morgan’s sections more, I wasn’t bothered by Miach’s portions.

The biggest strength of this book for me was the humor. There were several laugh-out-loud moments for me. The dialogue was witty and Morgan’s inner appraisal of those around her was always entertaining. Again, her disdain of the undercover king, and his reactions to her bluntness, was hilarious.

I do have a couple of criticisms. This book is fantasy-lite. The worldbuilding is of the most generic type for stories like this. We could be in any average magical world and nothing is really unique about this one. Magic is just a thing, there is no explanation for how it works the way it does or any limitations on its range. The politics are very typical, and what we’re given of the history of the world isn’t presenting anything terribly interesting.

And I personally always ding a book when the major conflicts of the story hinge on people choosing to just not communicate. There are several decisions like this throughout the book that just made me want to slap people. It was easy to see the conflict being set up by these choices and the payoff wasn’t worth the frustration of watching characters so badly mismanage things for a purely contrived purpose. These decisions made no sense and when I can see the author’s hand this clearly, it aggravates me. It goes completely against the competent characters that have been set up so far to then make them behave in this way, and it only succeeded in taking me out of the story.

Also, the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it was wrapped up way too quickly and in a manner that almost undid a lot of the goodwork and goodwill the book had built up up to this point. This book is the first in a trilogy, and while I was entertained by it and there were a lot of aspects I liked, I’ll still put this on my to-read list but I’m not in a major rush to get my hands on the second one based on some of these flaws.

Rating 6: So good in so many ways! So frustrating in so many ways!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Star of the Morning” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best ‘Strong Female’ Fantasy Novels” and “Magic, Adventure, Romance.”

Find “Star of the Morning” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Natural Way of Things”

28251422Book: “The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood

Publishing Info: Europa Editions, June 2016 (originally Allen & Unwin, October 2015)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue – but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.

With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood’s position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.

Review: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read a version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was amped up on steroids? Well “The Natural Way of Things” takes it a few steps further and puts it on PCP. This is one of the books that I heard about through a description my mother sent me via email. She knows what I like. Set in a desolate Outback wasteland, I also got hints of “Mad Max: Fury Road” from this book, as it’s a violent tale of misogyny run amok. Unfortunately in this one the imprisoned women don’t have an Imperator Furiosa or Max Rockatansky there to whisk them away in a tanker truck. These women, their crimes getting caught in a sex scandal with a man or men with a considerable amount of power, are trapped in a desert complex with sadistic guards and a dwindling food supply. Rough, rough stuff. Thanks for sending it my way, Mom. This is the same woman who sent me a review of the awesome “What Belongs To You”, a book that starts with a gay hook-up in a public bathroom in Bulgaria.

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Probably my Mom whenever she shoots me an edgy book recommendation. (source)

But I’m glad that it’s rough stuff. I like that Charlotte Wood takes a hideous thing and doesn’t make it titillating, doesn’t gloss it over. There are descriptions in this book, from wounds to violence to homemade tampons with gross supplies, that made me cringe and flinch. The crime these women committed was the crime of being sexual beings whose sexuality threatened male power structures. Is it a little on the nose? Sure. But that doesn’t make it any less effective.

We mainly follow two women in particular. There’s the young and fierce Yolanda, who had sex with a number of players on a sports team (though the consent of this was, to me, questionable at best). Then there’s Verla, a bit more mild mannered and caught in an affair with a high powered politician. They cope in different ways with their capture. Yolanda becomes obsessed with trapping and skinning rabbits for food, while Verla hunts ceaselessly for mushrooms. Their routines and their deep friendship is what keeps them going, but their circumstances are so horrific you kind of wonder why they would want to. I loved both of them in their own ways, Yolanda for her ferocity and Verla for her cunning. They are strong in very different ways, being two examples of well written and tough female characters who are still realistic within their circumstances. The other women are also given a lot of depth, with a lot of them having their own unique personalities. Some of them are kind, others are not, but they are all victims and Wood makes it clear that none of them deserve what is being heaped upon them.

Wood’s writing is literary and her prose is haunting. There are passages and phrases in this book that flow effortlessly and evoke vivid imagery. She portrayed this camp so well that I could see the dust in the air, feel the heat, smell the stenches. It was a hard read, but in it’s horror and devastation there was a beauty in her words and a poetry in her writing. Her characters are also well drawn out, from the prisoners to the guards as well. There are a couple of guards we focus on, and while they do have their moments of extreme violence towards women, their disdain for women in general adds to the violence in another way. One of the guards is described as a hippie type who loves yoga, but his poisonous bile he spews about his ex girlfriend goes to show that words can also reduce women to animals, almost as much as leashes and prisons can. I almost had a harder time reading these horrible words he was saying about a woman who wasn’t even present, just because who knows how many women are spoken of in such a dehumanizing and objectifying way every minute of every day. This was the realest part of the book, and it was a punch in the gut.

I think that the only part of this book I had an actual critical hard time with (because I mean, I had a hard time with a lot of it) was that I wasn’t totally certain if this was supposed to be set in the present, real Australia, or a fictional dystopian Australia. Lots of people have listed it as Sci-Fi and Speculative fiction, but I didn’t really see much that would imply that this was the case. Well, outside of the whole ‘women rounded up and sent to a prison camp for being involved in sex scandals’ thing. I guess that to me it didn’t really scream Sci-Fi as a whole with just that aspect of it.

In a time where rape culture and misogyny is being spoken of more and more, I think that a book like “The Natural Way of Things” is an important work to showcase and talk about. “Mad Max: Fury Road” brought up these themes and attracted the ire of angry misogynists all over the Internet. “The Natural Way of Things” pushes these themes further, and flat out spits in the faces of those same creeps. It wasn’t an easy book to read, but it’s scathing take down of societal hypocrisy and violent chauvinism makes it a must read.

Rating 8: A scathing and well written novel about dangerous misogyny and rebellion. This should probably be on Women’s Studies reading lists everywhere, and that’s not snark.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Natural Way of Things” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Feminist Fiction”, and “Australian Speculative Fiction”.

Find “The Natural Way of Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Young Elites”

20821111Book: “The Young Elites” by Marie Lu

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, October 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Review: Phew! Look at that book description! Do I even have space left to write a review? I won’t get on my soapbox re: long descriptions as I’ve already indulged my “look at that awful cover” soapbox preaching recently.

Kate and I actually got to meet the author at ALA a few years ago at a young adult authors round table event where she was promoting this book. I had read her previous series and liked it and so was intrigued by what was coming next for her. I remember sitting at the table with her and listening to her talk about her inspiration as wanting to write a young adult novel from a villains perspective. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical. I feel that anti-heroes are incredibly challenging to write, and it’s not made easier by the marketing and popular tropes of the current young adult book scene which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to this type of creativity with protagonists. However, as I said, I liked her other trilogy so was willing to give this a go (even if it did take me another 2 years to get to it!). Alas, my skepticism was warranted.

Adelina is a survivor of a terrible illness that swept through her country when she and her generation were children, killing all adults who were infected and disfiguring the children who survived it. Now, many years later, these marked children are scorned by society as omens of bad luck and ill will. But some of them are developing extraordinary powers and learning to fight back and are called the “Young Elites.” So…right off the bat you have a problem. This is a society that despises these marked teenagers, even more so the one that have powers, and yet they’re called the…young elites. A very positive term. I know this is knit-picky, but it  highlights the general problem with this story: a general discordance between how characters are presented as villains/heroes, with a lot of back and forth that doesn’t make much sense when you start digging into it.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Adelina is not an anti-hero. She is written in a way that justifies, explains, and generally supports her every action throughout the book. An anti-hero needs to make questionable decisions while still being sympathetic, not just do the same thing that any ordinary person would do in a specific situation and then spend pages talking about their own “darkness.” I mean, she’s constantly waxing poetic about her “darkness” and her “fear” and her “hatred,” but then the second she does something maybe half ways sort of not ok, she immediately feels regret/breaks down crying. Generally, Adelina is extremely unlikable, and not in the way of a character who is unlikable because they are doing terrible things but could maybe still be intriguing. No, unlikable in the “whines a lot and makes terrible decisions one after the next” manner.

The book is also written in first person present tense which is by far my least favorite writing style. I’m not quite sure why it’s still in use. It’s just an awkward format to read. Adelina would refer to her own emotions as “my fear rises” or “my passion rose up” etc etc and it came off in such an awkward manner that I couldn’t take any of it seriously.

I really liked the concept and the general re-imaging of a fantasy world version of Renaissance Italy as a setting. I also appreciated the complicated, close relationship between Adelina and her sister. The book also goes out on a strong note, making a few surprising choices and setting up an interesting, and less predictable, path forward. It’s almost enough to make me want to keep reading. But…sadly I’d have to put up with more of Adelina herself, and I’m not sure I’m quite up for that.

All in all, I was pretty disappointed with this book, especially because of how much I liked Lu’s other series. It seems like she had a great idea, but quickly became overwhelmed with the true complexities of trying to write a true anti-hero character.

Rating 4: This was a  miss for me. A strong setting and good example of sisterly bonds was not enough to get me past an unlikable protagonist and clunky writing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Young Elites” is included on this Goodreads list: “Diverse Books by Diverse Authors” and “Best Books for Dark Happy Endings.”

Find “The Young Elites” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “The Woman in Cabin 10”

28187230Book: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, July 2016 (first published in June 2016)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another intense read.

Review: Earlier this year I reviewed the book “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware, and if you recall I greatly enjoyed it. Ware created a very creepy and tense thriller, with some very fun and interesting characters. When I found out that she had written another book that was coming out this summer, I was pretty stoked! I had a feeling that it was going to be difficult to follow up “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, at least in my eyes, but I was hoping that Ware would be able to prove that she has what it takes to stick around and become a pillar in the grit-lit writing community. Suffice to say, I was very, very hopeful that it would be good…. okay, I was nervous. PLEASE let it be good.

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Please please please please. (source)

I was a little nervous at first as I started reading too. Lo Blacklock starts out and seems like a typical Grit Lit mess. Since I am not fond of that trope and since I had recently come off another book that had that trope as the main character, I was feeling quite a bit sensitive to it. The good news, though, is that Ware is very, very conscientious about how she writes her main characters. While she may appear typical, Lo has a very well plotted out backstory, one that gives every reason for her to be this way, and not because of any one specific life changing incident. The PTSD she is suffering post-break in is just another layer to it, and I really liked that it wasn’t the one thing that totally messed her up for ever and always. But all that said, since it is first person and since she does have a number of problems, the reader does sort of question everything, and you do wonder if she is just imagining things and losing it, or if something really did happen on this ship. There were many shades of grey in this book, and it could have very easily been one circumstance over the other. It was written believably for multiple outcomes.

The setting of a cruise ship was also absolutely perfect. I already am totally not on board with cruise ships. Between the horror stories you hear about illness and malfunction, or the fact that it is, indeed, very social (introvert’s nightmare), there have been instances of people just disappearing off of ships. So not only is it claustrophobic, it’s also an expansive void. If you are in the middle of the ocean and fall off the side and no one sees, you are probably going to die and no one will ever know what happened to you.

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(source)

So the claustrophobic atmosphere in conjunction with Lo’s paranoia and unreliable first person POV really made a creepy and tense story. Everyone on this damn boat is a suspect, but then maybe there are no suspects! But ultimately, I did kind of guess at least part of the puzzle that was presented to us in this book. Not all of it, but some of it. That isn’t saying much, because I am usually pretty good at guessing these things, so don’t take this as me condemning the mystery. There are plenty of red herrings to go around.

There was one aspect of the book that kind of caught me off guard and seemed very awkward, out of place, and kind of upsetting. It’s just one scene, but I did want to address it because, wow. So Lo’s ex boyfriend Ben is on the ship as well, as he’s a writer too. The night of the possible murder, before all that, Lo drinks a lot, as does Ben, and then he corners her and grabs her breast. Which she is pretty clearly not cool with. She does push him off and he stops right away, realizing that he was misreading her signals (WHAT SIGNALS, I couldn’t tell you, as she sure seemed not interested), but it wasn’t treated like the sexual assault that it was! It was more brushed off and seen as inconsequential, more like a cherry on top to an already not great night. That didn’t sit well with me, personally, as it wasn’t really given the weight that it should have been given. Which was all the more frustrating because outside of that Ben wasn’t exactly a terrible character or meant to be a bad guy. Kind of a prick but certainly not predatory. From that moment on every scene with him just felt off, and he never recovered in my eyes. Odd choice and not a great one.

“The Woman in Cabin 10”, however, did almost live up to “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, and I am happy that Ruth Ware has managed to solidify herself as a major talent in this genre! Grit-lit fans rejoice! We have Ruth Ware and it seems like she is here to stay!

Rating 8: A twisty and well plotted out mystery with a well written main character. Some strange choices were made, but overall this thriller is sufficiently creepy and tense!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Woman in Cabin 10” is included on these Goodreads lists: “If You Enjoyed Gone Girl, You Might Also Like…”, and “Booklist Best Mystery Fiction 2016 (part 2)”.

Find “The Woman in Cabin 10” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Rev-Up Review: “Fallout”

23110163Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. In anticipation of the new Lois Lane book, “Double Down”, we go back to the first in the series, “Fallout”.

Book: “Fallout” by Gwenda Bond

Publication Info: Switch Press, May 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy.

Kate’s Thoughts

Does this book sound familiar to you? Well it should, because it was one of our recommendations on our “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” review. And you probably remember that we both love Lois Lane and will stand for her until the end of time. Given that I’ve been a Lois fan since I was a child, I was really really REALLY excited to see that the roving reporter was getting her own YA series set in modern day Metropolis. Because if anyone needs her own series, it’s Lois Friggin’ Lane! Especially given how the New 52 Comics have treated her character….

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Seriously. Screw you, DC. (source)

So I will just get one thing out of the way right off the bat: if this book hadn’t been about Lois Lane, and had just been an original character getting into a strange undercover reporter position, I probably would have found it pretty meh. The main character is snippy and snappy in an aggressively quirky kind of way, her friends are tropes, and the story isn’t really anything new or original when it comes to YA mysteries. But since it’s Lois Lane who is being sarcastic and slick and since we’re in a DC universe with ridiculous storylines abound, I am FULLY ON BOARD! Lois is portrayed as an intelligent and ambitious teenage girl without being a mean girl, which is a very nice thing to see. I think that it would be tempting to equate ambition with cruelty and coldness (especially when that ambition is coming from a female), but Bond makes her kind and caring as well as filled with a drive to succeed. And she isn’t perfect, either. She does have a bad temper at times, and she is impulsive to the point of being dangerously reckless. And as a teenager this totally works, as so many teenagers think that they are completely invincible, so why not teenage Lois? Especially when ADULT Lois goes through life feeling the same.

It’s also nice getting a bit of insight into Lois’ home life and personal life. We get to see her sister Lucy, her mother Ellen, and her father Sam, and really the only other memorable portrayals of these three characters, for me, were on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”. And in that Lucy disappeared after half a season, Ellen was a vague narcissist, and Sam was introduced when he showed up to Christmas celebrations with a sex robot (they say fiancee, but we know what she is). So seeing Lois have a more at home and healthy relationship with both her sister and her parents helped make her feel like a real teenage girl. Her friendships, specifically the ones with Maddy and “SmallvilleGuy”, also really add to her character as well. While Maddy is kind of the typical ‘rebel girl’, her friendship with Lois fleshes her out, and their compassion towards Anavi (the girl getting harassed by the cartoonly evil Warheads) is also very humanizing. Lois is a character who has never, within the canon, made friends too easily, and that makes her nice relationship with Maddy all the more sweet and satisfying. Her friendships with the other reporters at The Scoop are fine, with kind and geeky Devin and snooty and broody James rounding out the group. I was worried that one of these guys would be presented as a possible love interest for Lois, which I wouldn’t be on board with in this story. It’s mostly because I think that Lois is a strong enough character to stand on her own, and doesn’t need a love triangle to make her life more complicated. “SmallvilleGuy” is complicated enough. And as for “SmallvilleGuy”, well……

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(source)

As a Lois and Clark shipper until the day I die, it was great. Plus, by having him be an online pen pal, Clark doesn’t steal any spotlight from Lois, and the two of them can have their wonderful interactions without changing their origin stories too much.

Though the plot is a little predictable and the villains kind of boring, overall “Fallout” is a great intro story to this new Lois Lane series. “Double Down” will be next, and hopefully Lois Lane will go on to shine again. She deserves that.

Serena’s Thoughts

While my heart will always belong to Teri Hatcher as the one, true Lois Lane from “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” I did plow my way through all 10 seasons of “Smallville.” And, in many ways “Smallville” is the YA version of “Lois and Clark,” dealing with highschool/college age Lois and Clark (I like to pretend that the early seasons of Lana don’t exist). For all the other silliness and angst-ridden nonsense of the show, I always liked Erika Durance’s Lois. She had the same spunk and independence that I came to associate with Lois Lane, while also dealing with issues that would confront the character at a younger age. So really, “Fallout” plays the same role to the more classic examples of an adult Lois Lane from the comics.

Like Kate said, all in all there’s nothing super special about the plot. If anything, I spent most of my time wondering how exactly the mechanics of the video game they were all playing really worked. Some type of virtual reality World of Warcraft? It sounded fun, if anything. But yes, the characters were nothing special. The bullies were typical bullies, most of the friends fell into fairly predictable roles, and the adults were often as ridiculous as one comes to expect from much of YA fiction these days.

What made the whole thing special were the connections to the comics. As a longtime fan, it was so exciting seeing familiar (and often very overlooked side characters) finally get a time to shine. Not only Lois, but her father, mother, sister and Perry White. My fangirl heart was all a-flutter each time a new familiar face made an appearance.

And Lois herself was great. She reminded me a lot of the Lois character from “Smallville,” modernized but still familiar with her drive and often insane recklessness. And, obviously, any interaction between her and “SmallvilleGuy” was too previous for this world.

The story was predicable, and the ending had many convenient pieces falling into place in just the right way at just the right time, but the novelty alone really saves this book. All Bond needed to do was get Lois and Clark right, and I would be sold. And she succeeded at that. I’m exited to see where “Double Down” takes these characters!

Kate’s Rating 7: The plot itself is a bit contrived and the original characters have some room to grow, but Lois Lane shines in this teenage origin story. It’s a solid start to what could be a very fun and satisfying series.

Serena’s Rating 7: Samesies.

Reader’s Advisory

“Fallout” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Ladies of DC”, and “Superhero YA!”.

Find “Fallout” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Forgotten Sisters”

22529349 Book: “The Forgotten Sisters” by Shannon Hale

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Review: Sadly, this is the last “Princess Academy” story in the trilogy, and I was more sad to see it end than I had been expecting. While never the pinnacle of excitement, this series was a steady crowd-pleaser, and in a the book world where a series taking a sudden drop with follow up books after an excellent start is all too common, it not only maintains its core story, but goes out with a bang! I liked this third and last book almost as much as the first and more than the second.

“The Forgotten Sisters” picks up a few months after the last book, with Miri and Peder looking forward to finally returning home to Mount Eskel. But, because this is the end of a trilogy, nothing goes to plan and suddenly Miri finds herself charged to establish her very own Princess Academy for three noble-born girls who have run amok in the swampy southern lands for many years. No surprise, they are not what they first seemed and Miri quickly becomes tangled in the complicated web of politics that seems to find her wherever she goes.

This book differs from the previous two in the absence of several of the characters I had come to know and love from the previous stories. But Miri, steady and lovable Miri, is still at the center of it all. Further, while in the previous book I often found myself growing frustrated with Miri’s naivety and overly -simplified view of the world and people, in this book Miri was back on form: spunky, but grounded.

The three sisters were each a great addition to the cast. While it would be easy to pigeon-hole the girls (Astrid: the warrior! Felissa: the one who cares! Sus: the book-worm!), I found myself enjoying all three characters, most especially the way they each completed one another in their very strong, small family group. Though, Astrid, I did always picture her thusly:

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Astrid, kicking ass and taking names (source)

And, while some of my other favorite characters weren’t around much, Peder has an active role in this story. He always kind of existed on the periphery of the action in the last two novels, so it was refreshing to see him set into the spotlight somewhat. Not only did this give me for from the character, but it helped cement why Peder and Miri work together as a couple.

These are middle grade novels, however, so it must be admitted that a lot of the action gets wrapped up in a very “G rated” way. This can at times be jarring when the books are often tackling very serious issues, but things work out in the best way possible due to amazing amounts of luck and human understanding from all sides. But it’s very sweet nonetheless. That being said, this book did take a few unexpected turns into places that were quite sad. This added level of gravitas helped excuse later “easy outs.”

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and the series as a whole. When I finished the second novel in the trilogy, it was ended in such a way that could have allowed for the series to end, and if that had been the case, I would have left a bit disappointed. It was not only a relief to find out there was a third, but after reading it, this book bumps the whole series back up as a strong recommendation for any readers looking for light, middle grade fantasy, especially for young girls.

Rating 8: A great conclusion, with solid showings from staple characters and fun new additions!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Forgotten Sisters” is included on this Goodreads list: “Middle Grade Fairy Tales” and “Best Kick-Ass Female Characters From YA and Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.”

Find “The Forgotten Sisters” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Review: “Princess Academy” and “Palace of Stone”

 

Kate’s Review: “All the Missing Girls”

23212667Book: “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionLike the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

Review: Oh look, ANOTHER book that involves a missing person or persons! The good news is that once this is done we’ll kind of move away from that theme, at least for awhile. Because let’s be fair, this theme is totally a no brainer for the thriller and grit lit genre. So our most recent missing person story is “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda. This one almost made my highlights list in June, and even though it was eeked out at the last minute I still put it on request, because the buzz is that this could become another huge runaway hit. And yeah, I guess I agree with that. But unfortunately, it fell short of other grit lit books that I have read. Yes, it has a very cool frame in how it’s told, as Miranda decides to tell the main arc of the story backwards. We start at Day 15 of Annaleise’s disappearance, and work out way back to Day 1, peppering flashbacks to Corinne’s disappearance as well. A pretty strong gimmick, but the problem with gimmicks is that sometimes that is all a product has going for it. And sadly, I think that if “All the Missing Girls” was told in linear order, it wouldn’t stand out.

Nic is the standard main character in this genre: she’s emotionally a mess, she is stuck in a past that she tries to escape, and she can’t see past her current, bad situation, which them causes harm to those in her new life. It’s a character archetype in these stories that is getting a little old. I mean, the moment that she said that she had a handsome, smart, wonderful fiance named Everett I knew that poor Everett was going to be run through the ringer thanks to her shenanigans. I don’t know what rule has been written that says that these damaged women need to treat everyone who cares about them like crap, but Nic holds fast to it. Sometimes it’s done well and you can see the flaws in their loved ones who just don’t (or won’t) understand them, but in this one I just felt bad for Everett because Nic is a trainwreck. She has a strained relationship with her brother, she is still hung up on her ex boyfriend Tyler (who is ALSO a walking trope as the puppy eyed ex boyfriend whose candle still burns bright for his lost lady love), and she misses her frenemy Corinne in spite of the fact that Corinne was just the worst. Protagonists like this are so hard for me to like, because while I like that these women aren’t perfect and are complex and can be complete messes a la the guys in “True Detective” or something, it’s getting a little old.

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And honestly, “True Detective” had gotten a little old by season 2. (source)

But as far as the structure go, gimmicky as it may be, it did make the story more intriguing. I kind of had to wrap my head around it, as going backwards but revealing the truths about Corinne in a forward time was kind of a mind twister, but once I got the hang of it I did enjoy this creative choice. It also allowed us to find out the past after we got to see the present and future, and in doing so it did give some of the revelations a stronger reveal and emotional punch. It also was fun seeing that you think that you know what the solution is because you started at the end, but then as you move backwards you realize that no, you’re totally off base and so wrong. I am kind of curious if Miranda wrote it out in order first, or if she always started at the end and worked her way back to the beginning. It couldn’t have been easy, and so I do have to give her props for sticking the landing. I just wish that the story itself was stronger, to match the strong storytelling choices.

There was also a lot to explore when it came to Nic and her relationship with her father. Her Dad is suffering from dementia, and Miranda did a very good job of portraying someone who loves her father and hates to see him that way, but also gets easily frustrated and upset with him even though she knows that he can’t control his lapses. As someone who watched her mother and aunts have to deal with their dementia-ridden mother, and how hard it was, I really appreciated that Miranda showed multiple sides to how this can affect family members. While the dementia could have just been used as a plot device (and it was to an extent), it was handled with enough care that it didn’t feel cynical or clunky.

“All the Missing Girls” serves mostly more of the same, but the plot structure was pretty neat. I don’t know if I’d pick up another book by Miranda, but who knows how I will feel if another one comes out and it sounds promising. Give this a whirl if you want a new way of reading a mystery, but don’t be shocked if it feels all too familiar.

Rating 7: The way the story is framed is definitely cool and intriguing, but with weaker characters it feels like the story relies too heavily on the gimmick.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Missing Girls” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Women with Moxie”, and “Great Discussion Starters”.

Find “All the Missing Girls” at your library using WorldCat.