Not Just Books: June 2017

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Joint Pick

mv5bndfmzjgymtetytk5mc00nmy0lwjhzjktowy2mzi5yjkzodnlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymda4nzmyoa-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Movie: “Wonder Woman”

We bought tickets to this super in advance because we knew, WE KNEW, it was going to be awesome. So just imagine our smug self-satisfaction when we walked out of the theater knowing that the DC flop fest had ended at last. And with a female superhero’s story none the less! The hype is real with this one, folks. Not only is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman fabulous, her supporting cast of characters all fit together perfectly. Want to feel empowered, ladies? Go see this movie.

 

Serena’s Picks:

 mv5bmwy3ntljmjetyzrimi00nwm2ltkznjitztvmzje0mtdjmjjhl2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntq4ntc5otu-_v1_TV Show: “Sherlock”

While I will admit that “Elementary” is my preferred go-to Sherlock Holmes TV show (mostly because I love Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Lu’s Watson is a unique element to the tried and tru duo), my husband and I started watching the BBC “Sherlock” this month on Netflix. We’re now on the third season, and I’m warming up to the series as Sherlock becomes less of a jerk and Mycroft’s snarky British greatness really comes to the forefront. Though we did just finish the historical piece that re-imagines the series set back in the books’ original time period, which, for a historical fiction junky like me, just made the transition back to modern times all the more painful! Why did they have to torture me with “what ifs” and an historical version that I probably would have preferred?!

mrhpdh-cover-819x1024Blog: Mark Reads “Harry Potter”

The obsession with this blog continues! Last month I obsessively read Mark’s growing horror at the “Twilight” books all while muttering to myself “It gets even worse! Just wait for the next book!” So this month I got to experience the opposite side of book-feelings while reading Mark’s growing love affair with the “Harry Potter” series all while muttering to myself “It gets even better! Just wait for the next book!” I know it’s kind of a cop out to highlight the same blog twice in a row, but the reviews of these two series were such complete opposite ends of the spectrum that it felt like a completely different beast this second time around. And the one thing better than reading about someone hate-read a series you disliked, is reading about some fall in love with a series you adored.

Kate’s Picks:

p13713169_b_v8_aaTV Show: “Twin Peaks: The Return”

Remember how I said I hoped I’d be able to finally put this on my highlights? Thanks to my Mom and her generosity with her Showtime Anytime password, I CAN! “Twin Peaks” is back, and it’s crazier than ever. While it’s definitely feeling more “Eraserhead” than the original “Twin Peaks” at this point, I’m already hooked if only because of getting to see such favorites as Dale Cooper, Bobby Briggs, Albert Rosenfield, and (hopefully soon) Audrey Horne, aka my muse, back on my screen. It’s bananas and I just love it. We finally get to see where all of these characters have ended up after all these years, and while in some cases it’s very confusing (what is happening with Coop?!), in others it’s bittersweet and lovely (Bobby Briggs made me cry and I’m not ashamed).

e1c2bd0b5aa0a8d2fff1fe4aeb2ce4157761d9c2Netflix Show: “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return”

Another ‘return’! So I was pretty well obsessed with “Mystery Science Theater 3000” when I was in college. I liked the snark, the retro trash movies they watched, and the characters (at least for awhile. I’m solidly a Joel girl and once the Mads leave I’m not interested anymore). So when I heard that Netflix was going to revive it, I was nervously hopeful. The good news is that while the revival isn’t going to live up to the golden days of Joel, the bots, and the Mads, it still has so much heart, great nerdy humor, and terrible movies to make fun of. Plus, while the new people (including Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day) are good, it’s fun seeing some of the original people pop up in cameos. If you like the original “MST3K”, this is a worthy revival!

 

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #11: “The Forgotten”

363392Animorphs #11: “The Forgotten”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s been an accident. Someone crashed-landed a Yeerk Bug fighter. And the Yeerks have been trying to cover it up – quickly. But not before Tobias spots it. So the Animorphs and Ax decide to steal the ship to show the world that Earth has been invaded. That’s when things go terribly wrong. Before they know it, Jake, the other Animorphs, and Ax find themselves in another place. Another time. And there’s no way home…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Jake is having bizarre flashes of scenes involving him and the others in the rain forest of all places. Thinking he’s going insane, he must plow forward in spite of it all as the faithful leader of the group when Tobias notifies them all of a downed Bug fighter being hidden and worked on in an empty strip mall. The Animorphs decide to go check it out and, in a bizarre and rapid-fire sequence of terrible decision making, sneak aboard and fly off with the hopes of landing it at the White House and outing the Yeerk invasion once and for all. Surprising no one, this plan fails and fails big.

Losing control of the ship, they end up in outer space participating in a space battle with the Yeerks’ Blade ship. They cross laser fire and both ships end up damaged and plummet to earth, landing in the Brazilian rain forest. But not only are they now miles and miles from home with a broken space ship and Visser Three and his minions sweeping the forest looking for them, but they realize that they’ve traveled back in time several hours.

Ax, of course, wasn’t paying attention in school that day, but he theorizes that the space battle/laser intersection created a Saario Rip, a break in the space time continuum resulting in there now being two Jakes, two Cassies, etc etc all existing at once in different locations. And if they don’t re-set the whole thing in time, both groups will be wiped out. This portion of the plot was just as confusing as most time travel plotlines are and at a certain point I just threw up my hands and went with it.

Ultimately, the group spends a ridiculous amount of time acquiring jungle morphs (monkeys and jaguars) and generally getting a thorough lesson on why the rain forest is deadly. Rachel (of course it’s Rachel) almost gets eaten alive by a colony of ants. They’re almost poisoned by a variety of frogs and snakes. And they make friends with the local people who aren’t too thrilled with the Hork Bajir and other aliens now wandering around on their turf.

Jake and co. come to the obvious conclusion that they must return to the ship and hope to sneak on and hop a ride with Visser Three back to the U.S. and their own time period. Unfortunately for them, Visser Three seems to be smarter in this time period than he usually is and anticipates this move. He morphs some strange tree tentacle creature (how is that he has all of these super specific morphs ready at hand that seemingly would only work in these exact scenarios?) and captures and eats them all when they show up. Jake’s death then snaps his consciousness back to before they stole the Bug Fighter and he quickly calls off the whole thing, leaving him as the only member of the group remembering any of it.

I still don’t quite understand how Jake is the only one to remember all of this and why any one of the Animorph’s deaths wouldn’t have done the same. Maybe the others who were eaten weren’t dead yet? So Jake technically dies first and then stops the whole thing? I dunno, it was all quite confusing, but a blast anyways! I loved the changed setting of having the story take place in the rain forest, and it was fun seeing Visser Three not be a complete idiot. After the nonsense in Cassie’s book with his reaction to the skunk spray, he had begun to lose some of his fear factor and validity as a legitimate threat, so it was nice to see him back on form, even if it all gets wiped away anyways.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s books are always interesting due to his unique position as leader of the group. Through the others’ eyes and narratives, we always hear about how much they all respect and appreciate the fact that he takes on this role. But it’s only through his POV books that we truly understand how crushing this load must be in every single book. This whole story essentially revolved around the types of life and death calls that Jake has to make at every moment and how easily any one decision could go terribly wrong. He’s not operating with any more information than the rest of them, but it’s still up to him to choose whether to risk the safety of the group or of individuals.

At multiple points in this story, Jake has to send individuals into dangerous situations on their own (leaving Ax to retrieve a piece of the Bug fighter while they’re in the rain forest to prevent Visser Three and the rest of the Yeerks from leaving without them, and then later leaving Rachel behind as she struggles to navigate the paths through the forest in her bulky bear morph). Not only does he have to make these decisions, but he has to live with the anger and fear of the others for doing it at all. Tobias is angry that Ax is being left to fend for himself, and the whole group struggles with the close call Rachel has with her bear morph being almost eaten alive by ants.

Towards the end of the book, it is clear that Jake has made all of the wrong decisions that lead to their “deaths.” But, as we’ve seen through his eyes, at the time, he made the best decisions he could, which just makes their ultimate “fate” all the harder for Jake. This book is a good look at how easily things could go wrong for the group, even when making the best decisions they can. And man, poor Jake. He has to be the strongest member of the group to deal with this type of pressure every day.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Other than the horrifying ant scene, there were a few moments with Rachel that I found notable. One was the opening scene which was a comedic little bit where Jake and Rachel are square dancing. It’s always fun when we get moments like this between Jake and Rachel when we’re reminded that they’re related and have a unique relationship to and knowledge of the other. Secondly, Jake has a very astute understanding of Rachel. After she’s almost killed by the ants, Jake notes that whenever she’s scared she reacts by getting mad, and that this anger can often express itself in recklessness. It’s a nice reminder of how completely Jake must know and navigate the different personalities that make up the Animorphs so that he can best lead the group.

A Hawk’s Life: As usual, Tobias is the one that starts off this mission as he has nothing but time to fly around and notice strange things like downed Bug fighters. But, for once, he actually gets to come along on this trip. Obviously a hawk doesn’t do well in the rain forest, especially not a rain forest full of Controllers who are on the look out for animals that don’t belong. Jake also notes that an extra challenge with Tobias is that hawks don’t deal with hunger as well as humans, so Tobias’ situation is even more perilous the longer they are there.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie’s animal knowledge is, of course, useful. She is able to identify where they are in the world by recognizing the types of monkeys swinging in the trees. I just don’t get it. Cassie is so much more sane and likable in other character’s books! It’s almost like she’s out-of-character in her own when she reacts so ridiculously to things. For example, in this book the Yeerks end up killing a lot of the local animals and trees in their attempts to flush the Animorphs out. When she’s asked if she’s upset about this she says that of course she is, but the best way for her to save the planet is to not die, get back to their own timeline, and beat the Yeerks. Not get bogged down in trying to save some specific trees. This! This makes sense! But we just got done seeing her have the completely opposite thought process in her own book when she essentially prioritized a small bit of forest, a nest of baby skunks, and a termite colony above the safety of the group! I don’t get it. She’s so much more relatable, rational, and sympathetic in books like this than her own.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t do much in this book. He’s good for his quips, as always, but his usual contributions (smarts and planning) aren’t used much in this book.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: As always now it seems, the group wouldn’t get far without Ax’s knowledge of technology. But I think Applegate made a very good decision with his re-occuring “I wasn’t paying attention in school that day” routine. Obviously he’s way more technologically advanced than the rest, allowing them to even think about trying to fly the Bug fighter. But it’s good that he doesn’t have a complete understanding of things like Saario Rips and so forth, otherwise he’d be a bit too close to a deus ex machina in all of these stories.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The ants! The ants! Why is it always ants?!?! The whole scene where Rachel is being eaten alive in bear morph by an ant colony was probably one of the most horrifying scenes in the series to date, and that’s really saying something. There were unnecessarily vivid descriptions of ants carrying off pieces of flesh and crawling into mouths and eyes and..,.nope, just nope.

Couples Watch!: There’s a cute scene in the beginning when Cassie comes to watch Jake and Rachel square dance and Jake is super embarrassed by it all. But at least he has a healthy outlook on it and is relieved to see that she’s laughing her head off at him, rather than pitying him.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three has a smart plan! He has a smart plan, guys! He also has a couple good snarky lines that were pretty funny, especially when his underlings went crazy and started shooting up the forest and he questioned the thought process that lead them to destroying the trees…cuz obviously the “Andalite bandits” morphed trees…

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There really wasn’t anything too soul crushing in this book. Lots of action, less feels. I mean, I guess I should have gotten upset about then all “dying” and everything…but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen so I couldn’t get too worked up about it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The whole thesis statement of this book was “Jake has terrible plans and it sucks to be the leader.” I really feel that the whole “let’s steal the Bug fighter and fly it to the White House” had some glaring flaws from the start. Beyond the fact that none of them knew how to fly it, Ax’s techy knowledge aside, the whole thing was a massive gamble that was going to get their cover blown with them having no control of the actual outcome beyond the point where they landed. Not only would the Yeerks be trying to shoot them down, but I’m pretty sure the U.S. government would have something to say about an alien aircraft approaching the White House.

Favorite Quote:

More proof for my “Marco follows (loves??) Rachel” theory!

“We didn’t vote,” Rachel said. “But if we had, you’d have voted yes.””How do you know how I’d have voted?” Marco demanded. Rachel smiled. “Because I’d have voted yes.”

And a good Marco quip about their terrible planning:

<Oh, good,> Marco said sarcastically. <Another rushed, unplanned, last-minute mission. Those always turn out so well.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 5

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks, since if it weren’t for convenient timey-whimey tricks, Visser Three pulled off 1.) an actually well-thought out plan, 2.) a useful and appropriate morph, and 3.) killed all of the Animorphs. Further, even after Jake closes the Saario Rip, the Animorphs still fail to take advantage of the massive opportunity that was the downed Bug ship.

Rating: It’s not furthering the overall plot at all, but it was a great stand alone story! The change of scenery to the rain forest added for a lot of unique fun!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “Into the Water”

33151805Book: “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionA single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

Review: A couple years ago I got the book “The Girl on the Train” from my library, a spoil of war known as the ‘New Items Wall’. I had been waiting for it to be up for the allotted amount of time employees have to wait before it’s up for grabs, and as soon as that time was up I grabbed it and claimed it as my own. It didn’t take me long to read it. I found it pretty okay. I was entertained, even if I guessed the big twist long before the reveal was meant to happen. Though it’s gotten a bit of backlash as of late, I knew that anything else that Paula Hawkins wrote would get a lot of attention, and that I would be interested in reading it. So enter “Into the Water”, the newest book by Paula Hawkins. Like “The Girl on the Train”, I had to wait for this one to pass the time limit. And then I grabbed it for myself.

When “Into the Water” took me in, it took me in pretty hard. The book is told through multiple perspectives, each of them slowly giving tiny pieces of the overall puzzle as to what exactly happened to the two dead ladies who drowned in the local pond. The first is Katie, a teenage girl who jumped to her death from the cliff above the drowning pool. The second is Nel, a single mother whose daughter, Lena, was best friends with Katie. No one knows what happened to Nel. She was writing a book about the large number of women who died in the drowning pool over the years, either by suicide, witch craft trial, or straight up murder. Various perspectives include the eyes of Jules, Nel’s sister, Lena, Nel’s daughter, Sean, a detective and a man with his own connection to the pool, and Erin, Sean’s partner on the force. These four voices were the strongest of the bunch, as others either felt overdramatic (the mother of Katie was especially grating, even though I did feel sympathy for her), superfluous (a local psychic who has her own beef with Sean’s family), or just downright yucky (Mark, a teacher who may have had an improper relationship with one of his students). While they all added their own important pieces, it was hard to keep track of all of them at times at first. You add in chapters from Nel’s book about the other women who died in the drowning pool and you get a lot of information to process as you are paging through quickly because it’s so enthralling.

I had a few theories about what was going on this book, and unlike “The Girl on the Train” I wasn’t totally convinced about what had happened very early one. While I liked that it kept me guessing pretty well, I did take issue with the fact that this book is the kind of story that likes to keep yanking the rug out from under you. I am okay with twists and turns, but I get really sore when a solution is presented, a conclusion is presumed, and then in the last paragraph, NAY, the last SENTENCE, the solution is completely thrown out the window and a new reality is set in place. That’s not clever to me, that’s not inventive or an ‘ah ha!’ moment. That’s a cop out, and I am not impressed with cop outs.

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(source)

I think that I need to just start to accept the fact that while I am definitely going to keep up with Paula Hawkins books in the future, I’m going to have to accept that for me it’s going to be less about the solution and more about the journey getting there. I would definitely say that “Into the Water” kept me entertained and captivated well until the final pages were turned, but on the other side of the coin the ending was a huge let down. What I will say is that Hawkins knows how to construct a mystery and a thriller, and just because the endings have disappointed me it doesn’t mean that I will completely overlook the experience as a whole.

Rating 6: Incredibly engrossing and addictive, but with a dud of an ending, “Into the Water” kept me going but left me frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Water” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Crime Books You’re Excited For!”, and “2017 Suspense and Thrillers”.

Find “Into the Water” at your local library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Princess of Thorns”

18782855Book: “Princess of Thorns” by Stacey Jay

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2014

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

Book Description: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it’s too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

Review: I picked up this audiobook in a spur of the moment panic brought about by previously requested audiobooks not being ready at the library and a long, traffic-filled commute staring me down. This book had been hanging out for so long on my to-read list that I have completely forgotten how it go there and (an even worse habit!) I had begun to assume that because I hadn’t gotten to it in so long, I must not really have been that interested in the first place. Reading the description, some type of bizarre fairytale re-telling about the Sleeping Beauty’s daughter it sounded like something that would be right up my alley, so why hadn’t I gotten to it?! Ah, the mysteries of life, and one that burned me in the end here for ignoring such a delightful story for so long.

Just as the description suggests, this is indeed a fairytale type re-telling, if by “re-telling” you mean “tragic post script to the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story that, depending on the translation, is already pretty horrifying.” The prince who wakes up the Sleeping Beauty is indeed a jerkwad of the “hide your multiple wives” variety. And things only get worse when an Ogre prophesy puts her two children at risk, leading to her imprisonment and some truly terrible forced choices. The story then picks up 17 years later following Aurora who is now working off a tight deadline to rescue her brother from the Ogre Queen and raise an army to save her kingdom. All with the help of Niklaas, a seemingly shallow prince who is hell-bent on marrying a princess.

Niklaas was one of the most surprising elements of this story. Based on the cover, the book description, and, let’s be honest, the tons of YA fairytales that have come before it, I went into this assuming that Aurora would be our one and only POV character. So color me surprised when Niklaas shows up and steals away half the story for his own! And I couldn’t be more happy about it. Niklaas brings his own fairytale to the book, this time a twisted version of the “Seven Swans” story, and his own personality to the page. His is one of my favorite character types to stumble upon. Witty, but flawed. Self-aware, but delusional about how he comes across to others. He’s the type of character you should hate (as Aurora first does as well) for all of his egotism and blatantly stereotypical and demeaning opinions about women. But he’s so charming and hilarious that you end up loving him anyways, gleefully waiting for the inevitable slap to the face that will knock him out of his narrow way of thinking. He was a perfect foil to the more impulsive (reckless!) Aurora, and a humorous balance to her own more straight-laced approach to the trials and tribulations they find themselves in.

Aurora, herself, was also a great character. Not only did we have Niklaas showing up as one of my favorite types of romantic leads (the kind that exist as more than a romantic lead in the first place), but with Aurora I had another favorite trope: girls disguised as boys. The biggest challenge with this approach is balancing the friendship/romance between the two main characters in a believable way. For Aurora’s perspective, it is easier, as she is in on the sham the entire time. So for her, it was most enjoyable simply watching her slowly realize that for all of his foibles, Niklaas might be a good guy. But for Niklaas, it’s harder. His relationships with Aurora starts out purely platonic, with him believing that she is her younger brother. Their friendship and camaraderie during this period was great, and I was beyond pleased with the way the author transitioned this relationship once the secret comes out (this is NOT a spoiler, cuz…obviously). Particularly, I loved that the challenges of this reveal weren’t hand-waved away. Not only does Niklaas have to come to terms with the new reality he’s living, but also that he’s been actively lied to for weeks. Full points for the author in her handling of this entire storyline.

Beyond these two, the most surprising part of this story was the inclusion of a handful of story chapters from the POV of the Ogre Queen herself. Initially I was rather put off by this as I had been having a grand ole time romping around in the woods with Niklaas and boy!Aurora. But the Ogre Queen’s chapters, and the character herself, brought a necessary level of severity to a story that could have easily slipped into pure silly escapism (though there’s a healthy dose of that, for which I was glad as well). For the few number of pages she’s allotted, the Ogre Queen’s transformation and story arc was probably the most compelling. Her story was unique and completely unexpected, probably bring the only truly “new” portions to this fairytale from the long lists of marks that are almost always hit in these types of books.

My only frustrations came towards the end. Throughout the story, Aurora’s character is pushed to grow and adapt from her particular brand of bravery that often revealed itself in foolhardy decision making with results that could have been prevented if a bit more thought had gone into them. With all of the build up, I went into the final act ready for her to complete this arc. And…in a way she does? But not really. She ultimately makes all the wrong choices and is only saved by the courage and sacrifice of those around her. There’s a very brief moment where she does confront this reality and make one good decision that does have major ramifications. But only after making ALL OF THE WRONG decisions up to that point, with only luck leaving her this one last opportunity to make it right. She does pay a steep price, but I ultimately felt that her arc was left rather incomplete in this area. Did she really learn a lesson here? Was it really satisfying that everything ended up aces for her out of pure luck? I wasn’t completely satisfied on either account.

But let’s not end on that note! Even with those frustrations, this book was completely and utterly a joy to read! It may have hit me at just the right moment when I needed a bit of humor, romance, and adventure without too many complicated strings attached. But as a beach read, I think it’s perfect, so make sure to grab a copy before you head off on vacay this summer!

Rating 8: Pure fun! If only brought down a few points by a bit too much luck in the end for my taste.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Princess of Thorns” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Disguised as Boys” and “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems.”

Find “Princess of Thorns” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising”

31624824Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Based on the hit DC Collectibles product line! As World War II rages across Europe, the Allied forces issue a call to arms for the greatest heroines the world has ever known! With an old villain arising from beyond the grave, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Kara Starikov, Kortni Duginova and Mera must aid the Allied forces while at home, a brave group of Batgirls must defend the homeland!
The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 3.

Review: With the way that the last “DC Bombshells” collection ended (if you’ll remember, it was devastating), I was wondering if we were going to get into more pathos in which we’d have to potentially say goodbye to another of our beloved heroines. I suppose that I should have steeled myself for that possibility from the get go, as this is WWII and with war comes death. And given that our ladies are spread out across various fronts, battling not only Nazis, but also Nazi Zombies, the stakes are pretty high. And we jumped right back into it.

But first, we went back to the home front to check in with the Bat Girls! They’re continuing there time of taking up the mantle for Batwoman while she is overseas, and this time they have a new ally to go along with Maggie Sawyer.

LOIS LAAAAAAAANE!!!!

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It’s her time at the table, folks, so buckle up! (source)

Seeing Lois introduced (and giving her a very interesting backstory that gently but deftly touches on the immigrant experience) was a serious treat for this Lois Lane fangirl. It was also great seeing her jump in without having to worry about needing help from Superman (still nowhere in sight), and helping the Bat Girls break up a crime ring (involving the Penguin!), though they find themselves wanted in the process. Seeing this and a non-Two Face-d version of Harvey Dent going on and on as a political candidate with an “America First” platform made this story feel pretty close to home.

But meanwhile, in Europe, we catch up with our Bombshells on the front lines. We don’t get to see Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or the aftermath of Stargirl’s death this time, but that’s okay by me. I’m not ready to see the fallout from that. But that isn’t to say that we have a lack of stories this time around, as we are juggling a number of story lines. We have Batwoman, leaving Wonder Woman and Stargirl to try and get back to the front lines, who meets up with an old flame, Renee Montoya (aka The Question). They first met during the Spanish Civil War, and fought on the rebel side against the fascists. Now they are teaming up again, in spite of bad memories of losing a young protege and friend named Jacon (YES AS IN JASON TODD I AM SCREAMING) and the end of their love. You have Zatanna, who has been sent to a ghetto because of her Jewish and Romani heritage, and is being tormented by Joker’s Daughter, who has taken away her powers. You have Mera, who has washed up in Ireland without her powers, banished from Atlantis and her rightful throne. And we finally come back to Harley and Ivy, who have become freedom fighters for the resistance, and have found love with each other as they try to make their way to Berlin to take down the Nazis from their home base. And I haven’t even mentioned Huntress, Miri Marvel, Joker, Catwoman, Raven, and Aquaman, who all make appearances as well.

It’s definitely a lot to balance. But Bennett does a really good job of slowly but surely weaving all of these stories together. It was SO lovely to see my girls Harley and Ivy again, and to see how they play into this whole thing. I was wondering how it was all going to fit together, but it does. I was also really relieved that even though we did get a bit more romance with some of the heavy hitting men of the Universe (Aquaman and Constantine, specifically), it didn’t bring down Mera or Zatanna. Even though Mera has found lighthouse keeper Arthur, there is no sign of him having powers that are going to outdo hers as of yet. Their romance is just another part of her as a person, but Mera remains Mera and isn’t distracted from her goal of getting her powers and Atlantis back. The same can be said for Constantine, who is in the ghetto with Zatanna. He is there to support her, but his presence doesn’t weaken her or make her seem like he is her only strength in a horrific situation.

I loved seeing all of these women come together to fight against Joker’s Daughter and the Nazis, and that a number of these women in this story are Jewish or of Jewish descent, as Batwoman, Zatanna, Miri, and Harley all make mention of their heritage while they are inside the ghetto during a shabbat dinner. There was great beauty in this entire moment, as it wasn’t solely a ‘savior’ moment, as these women are also targets because of their heritage. The symbolism was bittersweet, and I really appreciated it. It was also good seeing the concept of abusive and controlling relationships being addressed, and not just in romantic ways. There was a small moment with Harley and Joker as she tells Ivy about her past, but there is also the relationship between Joker’s Daughter and Zatanna, and the relationship between Mera and her former beau. There is also poor Raven, who has only known Joker’s Mother as her mother figure, and is so damaged in her need to please her but also her need to escape. These are things that women in real life have to grapple with, and I so appreciate that this series dares to bring up the toxicity of relationships like these, and contrast them with healthy relationships. Harley finds Ivy. Zatanna finds Constantine. Raven finds a new group of women to mother her. Mera finds Arthur. And they all find more self respect. It’s just so positive!!! I can’t gush about it enough!!

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There is just so much to love in this series. It continues to be super feminist, it continues to strive for diversity, and it continues to have some awesome action sequences that are just as good as any other superhero comic out there. I am once again sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the next one in the series (out this fall I think!). While I’m worried that some characters are done, I am excited to see who else could show up.

Rating 10: Once again “DC Bombshells” knocks me off my seat and excites and thrills me until I turn the final page. These ladies continue to kick serious ass!!!

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but given the lists it’s predecessors are on it would fit right in on “#fempowerathon”, and “Amazons, Female Warriors, and Wonder Women”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “DC Bombshells (Vol 1): Enlisted!”, and “DC Bombshells (Vol 2): Allies”.

Emily’s Corner: “Ready Player One”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!

9969571Book: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

Publishing Info: Ernest Cline sold the novel in June 2010 in a bidding war to the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. The book was published on August 16, 2011.

Where Did I Get this Book: Barnes and Nobles

Book Description: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Review: I adore science fiction, though I often lament the cheesiness that plagues the genre. So I was utterly floored by this book. This is the kind of science fiction that would convert even the most ardent sci-fi hater. Ernest Cline absolutely hit it out of the park on his first try.

“Ready Play One” is set in our world, less than thirty years into the future. The world is a bleak place, with a gaping divide between rich and poor, where the OASIS is the only respite from a reality of war, famine, violence, and disease. This book is believable because both the reality and virtual reality presented hit close to home. Global war is the norm, the populace consists of the uber-wealthy and people living on the streets, there is no middle class. In-game commerce is more valuable than hard cash, and the OASIS has more engaged voters than the actual government does. This isn’t Star Trek; it’s a future that feels hauntingly close at hand.

Wade is the perfect protagonist. Yes, he’s a teenager. He’s whiny at times, and you want to smack him upside the head when he pines too long after his love interest. But you can’t help rooting for him because he represents what it means to be the little guy, to go up against “the man” against all odds. He’s brilliant, but flawed enough that he doesn’t get preachy.

Wade’s story pivots around a global treasure hunt set up within the OASIS by its’ creator, a treasure hunt that is in itself a love letter to pop culture of the 80s. I loved the references I caught (shout-out to Wil Wheaton, who also narrates the audio book!), but wasn’t distracted by the ones that went over my head. I’m too young to catch the majority of the early 80s gaming references, but if anything it made me want to research Pong-era gaming systems. Atari, anyone?

The treasure hunt within the game is an engrossing adventure, complicated by real-world villains in the book, the IOI conglomerate who want to monetize and control the OASIS. Wade, known as Parzival in the OASIS, becomes the first player to crack the first of three clues that lead to both in-game and real-world treasure. He becomes the target of the IOI and cautiously teams up with other top players, known as Art3mis (pronounced Artemis), Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”), and brothers Daito and Shoto to win the game and keep IOI from dominating the OASIS.

“Ready Player One” is a great springboard for discussion on issues of technology, privacy, monetization, and legal liability which are hot topics today. It also provides thoughtful commentary on the positives and negatives of a fully immersive virtual world and the risks inherent to addictive technology. This is a thoughtful book, one that immerses you in the story but also makes you question your own addictive tendencies. Personally, I was struck by the idea that books were the first virtual reality, and wondered if I, as a self-proclaimed book addict, could really judge people who spend hours on video games.

There is a great twist near the end of the book, as Wade’s in-game friends introduce themselves to him in the real world. If nothing else, the reveal of Aech’s identity is worth reading the book for. There is also a teaser at the end which could leave room for a sequel. My guess is that Ernest Cline will wait to see how the movie adaptation turns out before deciding whether or not to pick up the story again.

Rating 10: This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, one that may just get added to my annual reads list.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ready Player One” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Books About Video Games and Virtual Reality” and “Nerdventure.”

Find “Ready Player One” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review and Giveaway: “The Cold Eye”

28962896 Book: “The Cold Eye” by Laura Anne Gilman

Publishing Info: Saga Press, January 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: In the anticipated sequel to “Silver on the Road,” Isobel is riding circuit through the Territory as the Devil’s Left Hand. But when she responds to a natural disaster, she learns the limits of her power and the growing danger of something mysterious that is threatening not just her life, but the whole Territory.

Isobel is the left hand of the old man of the Territory, the Boss—better known as the Devil. Along with her mentor, Gabriel, she is traveling circuit through Flood to represent the power of the Devil and uphold the agreement he made with the people to protect them. Here in the Territory, magic exists—sometimes wild and perilous.

But there is a growing danger in the bones of the land that is killing livestock, threatening souls, and weakening the power of magic. In the next installment of the Devil’s West series, Isobel and Gabriel are in over their heads as they find what’s happening and try to stop the people behind it before it unravels the Territory.

Review: After reading and loving “Silver on the Road,” I was excited to pick up this prequel. In the first book we were introduced to the unique, re-imagined West that is ruled by the enigmatic Devil who has sent out 16-year-old Isobel to travel the territory as his own brand of magical justice. In many ways, this book simply doubled-down on the same elements readers were presented with in the first novel, in some ways to its benefit and in others, less so. But ultimately, the “freshness” of the story/world/characters pulled through, leaving me with favorable impression of this second book in the series.

As before, the atmospheric world of the West was one of the biggest appeals with this book. The story starts out with Isobel traveling alone, and through her eyes we once again get to experience this strange, untamed landscape that effortlessly blends the ruthlessness of nature (with some added teeth from the magical elements) alongside the stark beauty of the rolling plains. Of course, there would be no story if something wasn’t amiss, and Isobel’s “sixth sense” leads her down a path of darkness and mystery.

While I enjoyed Isobel’s independent moments in the story, I was also very happy when she was reunited with Gabriel, as their friendship/mentorship was one of my favorite parts of the first book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book also continued down these relationship paths without any addition of romance. Each respects and admires the other, but, if anything, they read as siblings on the page. It is refreshing to read a story about a 16-year-old female protagonist that proves you can draw an interesting tale and create viable and intriguing relationships without the need to insert romance into the equation. Believe it or not, teenage girls are capable of forming other types of relationships with those around them.

I did have a few frustrations with the story, however. And, like the pros to the tale which all built upon elements I loved from the first book, the negative aspects came from the same quibbles I had with the first as well. Namely, the pacing and the magical system. While the slow and meandering travels allow readers to fully immerse themselves in the world that has been built, it can also deflate the story from the brief action sequences that can be found, leaving readers wondering just how many descriptions of dusty saddles are really necessary. The last third of the book involves some high stakes and challenging moral considerations (of the kind that really make you wonder about the Devil’s thinking in sending out an untrained, teenage girl to deal with the forces at work in the Territory), but it takes a long time to get to this point, and I wish there had been a way to tighten up some of the storytelling of the first two-thirds.

And lastly, the magical system. I love the uniqueness of the magic that is set up in this book, especially that which is connected to the animals (the buffalo’s herd magic, and the speaking snakes). But as far as Isobel’s own particular brand of power, it is just as frustrating as it was in the first book. She does things, but never knows how she is doing what she is doing. And more often than not just lead into an action by an undefined “feeling.” I understand that she is learning what her role is as the Left Hand, but that means she must actually learn. Just discovering that something worked without any explanation or knowledge of how/when/in what circumstance she could hope to repeat the process, at a certain point simply feels like lazy writing. And a bit boring.

But, as I said, at this point in the series, the uniqueness of the world and the appealing nature of Isobel and Gabriel and their friendship is enough to keep me interested. But don’t take my word for it! Check it out for yourself and enter to win a hardcover copy of “The Cold Hand!”

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Rating 7: A strong sequel that builds on the elements I liked from the first, but also, sadly, doesn’t improve on my original quibbles either.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cold Eye” isn’t on any relevant  Goodreads lists but it should be on “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories. “

Find “The Cold Eye” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously reviewed: “Silver on the Road”