Serena’s Review: “Prickle Moon”

16056356Book: “Prickle Moon” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Ticonderoga, April 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Prickle Moon” is a collection of Juliet Marillier’s best short fiction. It contains eleven previously published stories and five new ones. Included are the Sevenwaters novella, “’Twixt Firelight and Water”, the epic Nordic story, “Otherling”, and “In Coed Celyddon”, a tale of the young man who would one day become King Arthur.

The title story, especially written for the collection, concerns an old Scottish wise woman facing an impossible moral dilemma.

Other new stories in the book include “By Bone-Light”, a contemporary retelling of the Russian fairy tale “Vasilissa the Wise”, and “The Angel of Death”, a dark story about a puppy mill rescue.

Review: I don’t typically read many short story compilations. I like my stories lengthy with lots of room for world-building and character development. And yet, I bought this book! Well this is simply because Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve read all of her books and she is on a very short list (maybe 3?) of authors whose works I will buy without reading first. I’m sure as the months go by I will feel compelled to ultimately post reviews of all of her books, just out of sheer love and a tendency towards being a completionist. But my first post will be on this more recently read book of hers.

“Prickle Moon” features sixteen total stories; the length of each story varies quite a bit with a few lasting only a handful of pages and others taking up more meaty chunks of the total page count. Many of the stories featured Marillier’s staple touch: mixing fantasy elements with, often Irish, folklore and heritage. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical, and often heart-wrenching.

One of my favorites was the title story “Prickle Moon” which features, as the cover art would imply, hedgehogs and a wise woman struggling to find her place in a small world seemingly going mad with grief where she must face the terrible choices put upon her. I’m not ashamed, I ugly cried during this story.

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Tissues? Who said I needed tissues?? (source)

I also really enjoyed “’Twixt Firelight and Water,” though this is one of the lengthier stories and also one that is directly tied to Marillier’s “Sevenwaters” series. I’m not sure how approachable it would be to casual readers who are not already familiar with the world and the characters. However, if you have read that series, it was such a joy to read this short story and get more details on some of the more sidelined characters from the original stories.

Mariller is also known for her fairy tale retellings, another reason she’s a favorite of mine. And here she tackles Rapunzel and the story of Baba Yaga, both of which were also highlights of mine.

There were a few contemporary stories, as well as one that would have to be labeled science fiction. While I still enjoyed these, they were a bit jarring to run into after zipping through the high fantasy tales that mostly make up this collection. I wasn’t completely sold on the science fiction story, especially, but once I got into the rhythm of the contemporary tales, I found myself enjoying them as well. But it is ultimately pretty clear where her strengths as a storyteller lie.

As I said, I don’t have a strong background in short story collections, so I don’t have a lot of other books to compare it to. However, as a newcomer to this type of book, I found myself really enjoying “Prickle Moon.” I did catch myself often wishing that each story could be its own book, but, alas, I imagine that is always the challenge with short stories. If you enjoy short story collections, especially if you are a fantasy/fairy tale retelling genre lover, I strongly recommend “Prickle Moon.” Just make sure to have that box of tissues ready at hand.

Rating 8: A few of the stories were weaker than the others, but the strong ones were fantastic. Marillier’s beautiful writing style and strengths with fantasy writing were well-represented.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Prickle Moon” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it obviously should be on this one: “Collections of Short Stories.”

Find “Prickle Moon” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Lady Killer (Vol.1)”

23995491Book: “Lady Killer (Vol.1)” by Jöelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Dark Horse Books, September 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description:  Betty Draper meets Hannibal! Josie Schuller is a picture-perfect homemaker, wife, and mother—but she’s also a ruthless, efficient killer for hire! A brand-new original comedy series that combines the wholesome imagery of early 1960s domestic bliss with a tightening web of murder, paranoia, and cold-blooded survival.

Review: As much as the 1950s was an incredibly toxic time for just about anyone who wasn’t a white Christian straight man, I must say that the cover of “Lady Killer (Vol.1)” drew me in because of the very Susie Homemaker aesthetic. Well, and the bucket of gore. But really, I think that the 1950s setting for Josie Schuller and her assassin life is a perfect time and place because of how restricted women were during this time period. Not only is it the darkest of gallows humor, it’s also a commentary on gender politics during the time period, which I didn’t expect from this book. Josie is a cold hearted assassin working for a secretive group, but she also has a husband and twin daughters at home that she appears to love very much. Her skills at balancing this family life with her job raises questions for her male bosses, Stenholm and Peck, as they think that being a wife and mother is going to ultimately make her unable to do her job, which leads to the main conflict of this series. So essentially, “Lady Killer” takes the idea of women being unable to have it all and shoves it into a 50s motif, and I was living for it.

Josie herself is a very fun and fascinating protagonist. Balancing this double life seems to be something she can do with ease, and it is, in fact, Stenholm (the big boss) and Peck (her handler) that set her up to fail based of their fear that as a woman she won’t be able to do her job. The rampant sexism that was thrown at a top female assassin was both infuriating and yet so damn appropriate for the time period (and also recent times) that I was seething and yet nodding in recognition. So too was it very satisfying to see her turn the tables on them and prove that not only can she do it all, she can do it better than they can. Sometimes it felt like Josie might be a little too good at her job, but hey, if James Bond can be practically perfect in every way, why not Josie Schuller? It was also very refreshing seeing that Josie isn’t like James Bond in the sense that she had no interest in Peck, whose constant advances on her were met with scorn instead of flirtation. I was worried that to be seen as a perfect assassin she would have to also have no actual attachments to her husband and children, but that isn’t the case. Jones opted to give her a more complex value system than one could have, as while she is a murderer for hire, she does love her husband and children with all her heart, and wants to keep them safe, both physically and emotionally.

I also appreciated that there were gross and unfortunate signs of the times that could have easily been ignored. For example, the first time we meet Josie’s daughters they are playing Indian, which was jarring and set my teeth on edge. There is also a moment that Josie follows Peck to a Chinese restaurant, that is clearly overdone and done up to appeal to the white clientele who expect a certain Chinese Fantasy of the female waitresses. This moment was brief and it introduced us to a very cool fellow assassin named Ruby, but you definitely get the sense that Ruby has her own set of nasty expectations thrust upon her being both a woman and Asian.

The drawings in this book are by Jamie S. Rich. They are also something of note, as they are very throw back with their pastels and bright hues, but realistic and gritty when they need to be. In the same frame there can be vibrant 50s retro chic style mixed with extreme violence and bleakness, which offered a fun juxtaposition and just adds to the gallows humor of the series.

 

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Source: Dark Horse Books

“Lady Killer (Vol.1)” was a fun and nasty romp, and it makes me sad that the next trade collection isn’t expected until December of 2017. Seriously. So I guess that just means that I’m going to have to head on down to the local comic book shop and see if they have the newest series in single issue form. I’m not going to wait for Josie Schuller, I want her now.

Rating 8: A fun and gritty series with dark humor and social commentary, “Lady Killer (Vol.1) has introduced another kick ass female comic character that I am obsessed with.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lady Killer (Vol.1)” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Women Kicking Ass (Graphic Novels/Comics)”, and “Women Creators in Comics”.

Find “Lady Killer (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Landline”

18081809Book: “Landline” by Rainbow Rowell

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, July 2014

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

Book Description: Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Review: I had read two of Rowell’s young adult novels, “Fangirl” and “Eleanor and Park” and really liked them before coming to this book. I had heard that she had an adult novel floating around, and had it casually on my mental “to read” list, but had never made a real effort to pick it up as it falls out of my usual favorite genres. Last week, however, it happened to pop up as an available audiobook at the library, and that was my sign that now was the time!

I went into this story not knowing much about it. In fact, I had even less than the book description given above, since I was really only checking it out on the strength of Rowell’s other books and the general knowledge that this was about a married couple. That’s about it. So, it was quite a shock when I got to the magical, time-travel phone about 1/4 of the way into the story! A good surprise though.

Georgie is a television writer with her longtime friend and partner, Seth, who has been married for the past 17 years to her college sweetheart, Neal, and has two small girls to complete her family. From the outside, they look like the poster family for a working mom/stay-at-home father lifestyle, with Georgie financing the family, and Neal caring for the two daughters. However, after years of struggles balancing her work/home life, Neal and Georgie’s marriage is coming to a crisis state. Enter time travel, magical phone. A connection for Georgie back to the Neal she knew in college when they were going through a similar rough patch in their relationship.

So, just from that description, this book was quite a step out from my typical reading habits. Magical phones aside (which largely, it really is, as it functions as a plot device and not a lot more),  this book was mostly about the relationship between Georgie and Neal, how they got to where they are now and discovering whether they have a future. It’s a romantic, non-romance book, I guess, featuring two lead characters who are anything but typical romantic leads.

I really enjoyed this book. It perfectly balanced the emotional challenges of a long term relationship without vilifying either of the main characters. I’ve read a few other reviews where Georgie came under strong fire as a narrator, but I felt that her struggles, her realization of poor choices and her own failings was the whole point of the story. She is not written to be an unlikable character, just an honest, flawed human being. Being frustrated with her for these traits misses the journey of the story itself. Neal, too, is not written as a perfect partner, and while Georgie is our primary focal point, one can see the role he plays in their relationship fairly clearly.

I also really enjoyed the role that Georgie’s best friend and writing partner, Seth, plays in the story. I had quite a few concerns when he showed up initially, wondering whether we were heading into love triangle territory, but I should have had faith! If there is one thing that Rowell has proven with her previous books, it’s that she knows how to write honest relationships. And, at their core, I don’t believe love triangles can reflect any honesty about human relationships. It’s just not the way people truly form relationships and attachments. Seth’s role in Georgie’s life is refreshing and integral. He has played a role in the weakening bonds between Georgie and Neal, but not due to any romantic entanglements.

I also really enjoyed Georgie’s interactions with the rest of her family, both her young daughters as well as with her mother, step father, and much-younger sister. I’m going to repeat the word “refreshing” here for how much I appreciated this focus on the other people and relationships that make up Georgie’s life. She is not only defined by the primary romantic relationship in her life, but it is clear that the influence and love that she relies on from these other members is paramount in her life. I always enjoy reading about sisters, especially, and Georgie’s mother was a great character, too.

I sped through this audiobook! Usually I just listen to my audiobooks during my commute and call it good, but I found myself listening to this one as I cleaned my house and even before bed. The reader was very good, and I felt the story itself was very engaging. If you enjoy contemporary novels, with a good dash of humor and an honest look at the challenges and joys of married life, I highly recommend “Landline.”

Rating 8: Very good, especially the deeper look into all the many relationships that make up the central character’s life.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Landline” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Chick Lit for the Beach” and “Married Couples – NA/Contemporary Romance.”

Find “Landline” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Forsaken”

9775490Book: “Forsaken” by Leanna Ellis

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: “Hannah cannot move on.”

She pines for Jacob, the boy who saved her life when she drowned, bringing her back from the brink of death by breathing life into her.

“But Jacob is gone now, buried.”

Levi’s love for Hannah burns just as strong. But he knows how much Hannah loved his brother Jacob. He also knows the troubling event that took Jacob out of their lives. And he lives with that lie every day.

So when a stranger named Akiva comes to their community, he carries with him two secrets that will change their lives forever: he is in fact Jacob, whom Hannah had lost. And he is now a vampire.

When passions stir and secrets are revealed, Hannah must choose between light and dark, between the one she has always loved and the new possibility of love. But it’s more than a choice of passion; it’s a decision that will determine the fate of her soul.

Review: Did you know that there is not only Amish Romance, but apparently there is also AMISH VAMPIRE ROMANCE???

DID YOU!?!?!?

Because I didn’t, and the moment that I found this out I was like

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WHY IS THIS A THING?! (source)

So what did I do? I requested it as soon as I could because OH MY GOD HOW BIZARRE. I don’t know what I expected. I mean, it’s laid out pretty plainly just what this book is going to be. We have a pious and pure Amish woman who is tempted by a vampire because he’s her long lost love, so of course it’s going to be filled with over the top moments, dialogue, and nonsense. And I know that this book is SO not written for me. But….. Let’s be real, Amish Romance is a special niche of Christian fiction that lets people enjoy wholesome romantic scenes without having to worry about smutty moments. So to me, adding a vampire isn’t going to end up in any way outside of good conquering evil and goodness triumphing over the unholy. But this book gives it the ol’ college try of making the story unpredictable. As if we didn’t know that ultimately Hannah was going to choose the side of the light. Which, hey, more power to Hannah and more power to that kind of story, as some people like that kind of thing. But there sure were a lot of things about this book that rubbed me the wrong way outside of my own predilection for walking on the wild side, fiction wise.

And okay look, you’re going to get some spoilers here, so buckle up.

First of all, I was a bit taken aback by the implications that Jacob (or Akiva, as is his vampire name), the Amish boy who was so taken with travel, art, poetry, and a potential life outside of the Amish community, was effectively punished for his wanderlust by being turned into a vampire. And beyond that, he was portrayed as selfish for being intrigued by a life outside of his community, as if even deigning to imagine a life outside of it is an act punishable by vampirism. Though it seems not to happen terribly often from my limited research, Rumspringa does sometimes lead to people leaving the Amish community. So what is that saying about those who legitimately don’t fit in within the community they were born into and do want to leave it? As it was it kind of came off as judgmental and kind of shame-y, as if you were going to be corrupted for the rest of your days by choosing a different path. Or in Jacob’s case, even thinking about it, as he did, in fact, return home to be baptized! He was just turned into a vampire before he could be. So even thinking of it is so bad you’re punished in such a way? Jacob was this whole concept personified, especially since we had the contrast of his brother Levi (who is the other point in the love triangle with Hannah and Jacob/Akiva). Levi is not only a true and devout Amish man, but also the TRUE hero of the story here in more ways than one. The part that had me absolutely incensed was that when Hannah, our heroine, was younger she almost drowned, and as she remembers it Jacob pulled her out of the water she was caught up in and saved her by breathing air back into her lungs. It was actually a kind of nice backstory to their romance, in my opinion, as it displayed bravery on Jacob’s part and also affection, as well as showing why Hannah may have had a deeper connection to him outside of being essentially betrothed to him. But then, at DEFCON ONE of the climax, it is revealed that it was actually Levi the whole time that had saved her! And JACOB was panicky and scared and did nothing when she was unconscious! So Jacob, who is a freaking vampire and couldn’t even have ultimately won Hannah’s hand in this kind of gross and weird love triangle in the first place, doesn’t even get to have that act of heroism going for him, and is in fact a total coward!! Was that necessary? I don’t think so. I don’t understand why Jacob couldn’t have been more well rounded and multi-faceted, but oh well, apparently you can only be purely good (the steadfast and dependable Levi) or purely evil (the flitty-dreamer-coward-turned-vampire Jacob/Akiva). Heaven forbid there be complexity to these characters. Jacob could have been brave once in his life is all I’m saying.

I also took serious umbrage with poor Hannah’s portrayal. At one point I thought that we were getting a kind of self assured and headstrong female lead who could handle herself, as at one point she told Levi that she didn’t need him to protect her and that she could take care of herself. I’d hoped that that was going to be a theme for her throughout the book, but then it became abundantly clear that no, she couldn’t actually take care of herself and she quite obviously did need Levi’s protection and guidance. After all, Jacob encourages her to dance, drive in a car, and drink alcohol, and this is portrayed in a negative way as if he’s leading her astray IN SPITE OF THE FACT that Hannah never did participate in Rumspringa! So this could feasibly be seen as her doing what most Amish kids are encouraged to do!!! Not once is Hannah portrayed as her own person. She either belongs to Jacob, Levi, or a higher power. Never herself.

And again, I know that this is a different value system than mine, and that this book is not for me but more for them, but the moment you bring vampires into a story, it’s fair game for me. So let’s talk about the vampires. I liked that they are portrayed as more animalistic and less romantic. I liked the mythology that Ellis gave them, as limited as it felt at times. But I also felt like there wasn’t much research done into the history of vampires and how they are portrayed in literature. There was a scene with a character named Roc, a cop from New Orleans with his own personal vendetta against vampires (and a character that I actually thought was pretty okay, when all was said and done. Of course I like the hot mess abrasive cop who drinks too much). In this scene he’s talking with a childhood friend who is now a priest, and he asks if sunlight is indeed something that can hurt vampires. His friend says no. I was pretty excited, because yeah, in older vampire lore sunlight didn’t play into it, that’s a comparatively new part of the mythology. But then the priest said something along the lines of falsehoods being perpetuated by vampires and vampire sympathizers to keep their actual weaknesses hidden, to which Roc asked if that meant that Bram Stoker was a vampire or vampire sympathizer, to which he got a veiled yes.

Guys, in the book “Dracula”, Count Dracula WALKS AROUND IN THE DAYLIGHT. And by this books logic, that confirms that vampires can walk around in daylight! So how would being totally truthful make Stoker a vampire or vampire sympathizer?! I’m okay with promoting fun ideas of vampire myths being propaganda that can be twisted to what suits them, but if you’re going to do that, know which myths apply to which stories!

So yeah. This book wasn’t for me. I couldn’t even really enjoy it in a guilty pleasure ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way. But, that said, I know that a lot of people probably would like this book, both legitimately and ironically. And so it’s with this book, “Forsaken”, that I finally get to pull out Ranganathan’s Rule Number 3 as I side eye the HELL out of it.

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Amish Vampire Fiction is not for me, but it may be for you. “Forsaken” is certainly unique, and while I didn’t enjoy it, that doesn’t mean that others won’t. Every book its reader. Just gotta keep repeating that.

Rating 2: I had high hopes for silly fun, but ultimately really didn’t enjoy this one. Some of the vampire stuff was pretty okay, but overall it didn’t do it for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Forsaken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Amish Mysteries”, and “Magic, Adventure, Romance”.

Find “Forsaken” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “Double Down”

27818091Though 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. A few weeks ago, we reviewed the first book in Gwenda Bond’s “Lois Lane” series, and now we’re back with the sequel!

Book: “Double Down” by Gwenda Bond

Publishing Info: Switch Press, May 2016

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description: Lois Lane has settled in to her new school. She has friends, for maybe the first time in her life. She has a job that challenges her. And her friendship is growing with SmallvilleGuy, her online maybe-more-than-a-friend. But when her friend Maddy’s twin collapses in a part of town she never should’ve been in, Lois finds herself embroiled in a dangerous mystery that brings her closer to the dirty underbelly of Metropolis.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I think that a YA series is a great platform for Lois Lane to really shine. It’s pretty tempting to just make her a damsel in distress when she’s serving as a counterpart to Superman, or to just push her aside completely. So if you’re coming to this series looking for solid Lois characterization, this is going to be the series for you! If you’re coming into it looking for an original and well plotted main story that only strengthens her character, well….. Maybe not.

I think that is what frustrates me the most about this series. I read it because I want to see Lois shine more on her own, and shine she does, but at the same time I find myself wanting to get back to the scenes with SmallvilleGuy. I WANT LOIS TO STAND ON HER OWN, but in this series she isn’t completely able to do that. Sure, she is a new coming of Veronica Mars in her own way, and I love how she is written, but in terms of the mysteries that she gets to solve without Clark, they aren’t very strong. In this one we get a strange mystery involving her best friend Maddy’s twin sister Melody, and a secretive conspiracy involving the mayor’s office, the former mayor (who happens to be her friend James’s disgraced father), and human cloning. This plot line was boring and didn’t interest me at all, which isn’t good seeing as it was the main storyline of the book. However, I was definitely invested in her progressing relationship with SmallvilleGuy, and the side mystery that the two of them were working on, involving a mysterious internet handle who claims that they have knowledge of a mysterious flying man. For Lois this could mean finding out what happened to her and her father one night long ago in rural Kansas. She doesn’t know what it means for SmallvilleGuy, of course, but is glad that he’s interested too. This was a mystery I could sink my teeth into, because it puts both Lois AND Clark in a dangerous position, even though we’re only seeing it from Lois’s point of view. It legit felt like some “X-Files” malarky going on, and I was living for it. Especially since Lois fears that her father may be in on it, which I thought was a perfect plot point to introduce. Sam Lane has been contentious in various iterations, and I think to make him a potentially shady government being is a very clever direction to take him in. This storyline also set up for some potential future storylines as the series goes on. One involves a mysterious source who just signs their correspondence with ‘A’. And the other was short and sweet: while Lois and SmallvilleGuy were in a virtual reality world, being represented by their own created avatars, a mysterious, silent avatar was following them around occasionally. An avatar that looks like a bat.

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My face when the book I’m reading may be teasing an unexpected Batman arc. (source)

Damn do I love Batman and all his broody shenanigans. The thought of teenage Bruce somehow interacting with Lois Lane, even if it’s just for a little bit, really, REALLY makes me giddy.

I’ve just kind of come to terms with the fact that I am reading this series because it’s a spot on Lois portrayal that I really, really like. It’s not terribly innovative and had it been about an original plucky high school reporter I would have jumped ship awhile back, but it’s my girl Lois and she keeps it centered. She’s ambitious and whip smart without being cruel or vain, and has realistic flaws that make her interesting. I could read about this Lois Lane all day long, and I am still wanting to see more.

Serena’s Thoughts:

When I started this series, I agreed with Kate’s first thought: that YA is a great vehicle for a Lois Lane story. And, while I still am very much enjoying the novelty of getting to read a Lois Lane centric series, I’m not as sure that this is really true for me any more.

I agree with much of what Kate said regarding the central mystery of this story. The biggest failure in this book for me was this plot and its “believablility” issues. Look, we know this is based on a Superman story, so going in I have “bought in” to the world where an alien being has arrived on earth and has all of these amazing ability. But…that’s really supposed to be the only fantastical difference between this world and our own. The first book featured virtual reality; this is easy to get on board with as it feels like we’ve been one step away from this in reality for the last decade. But this book used cloning as its central plot device. And, look,  cloning is something that has actually happened in our world! It shouldn’t be so hard to believe! But the explanations, science, and plot devices behind it always felt weak, through me out of the story, and for a plot dealing with “twin bonds,” clone tanks, and a mob boss, I was surprisingly bored through a lot of it.

I also second what Kate said about the secondary mystery that Lois and SmallvilleGuy were involved in being much more interesting. There were actual stakes involved in this. I never really cared about Melody, the only connection readers have to her is that she is Maddy’s twin sister (and frankly, I’ve never particularly been super attached to Maddy herself!), but heck yeah I’m invested in sneaky government agencies trying to discover the identity of the flying man!

This is the central problem that I’m coming to see with this series. There’s just no way to balance the primary and secondary characters properly. SmallvilleGuy is firmly a secondary character. His plots are secondary, his page time is secondary, and, I’m sorry, that’s just not going to work in the long run for most readers when the series is being sold based on the strength of  Lois Lane, whom everyone knows through her connections to Clark Kent/Superman and the other classic DC characters. There is no way to write unique, original characters who are going to stand up as more interesting or more worthy of their more central roles in the plot when you have a character like SmallvilleGuy lingering on the sidelines with all of this previously established history and backstory. It’s just an impossible situation. It’s not that Maddy, Devin, James, or any of them are bad characters; they’ve just been plopped into a losing battle. I found myself almost skimming through large chunks of the story, just to get back to the Lois/SmallvilleGuy action, and this isn’t good.

Going back to what I originally said, I at first thought the idea of a YA Lois Lane book had a lot of good things going for it. But I’ve now come to realize that what I was really excited about was just the idea of a Lois Lane book all told. The YA aspect of the series is starting to feel like an anchor, rather than a boost. The action and stakes never feel like they have any true threat, which is another factor contributing to my general boredom/lack of interest in the central mystery, and you just can’t put Clark Kent on the sidelines and expect original characters to carry the show. When readers know the truth of the matter, it’s easy to start feeling impatient for Lois to get there too. And I start looking at this series, and due to it being YA, I just see a never-ending line of books before we get any kind of resolution in this area, unless Bond commits to fully re-writing history (which frankly, I’d be more than ok with!) Just get them in the same room and working together!!

So, ultimately, I found this book fairly frustrating. And largely this has to do with the fact that parts of it are so good! I love Lois herself, the characterization is spot on perfect for me.

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Oh, Lois…(source)

 

And SmallvilleGuy, too! But right there, if your two, let’s face it, MAIN characters are both so strong, it’s tough to read a series where one of them is sidelined and the other spends most of her time on plots that have very little at stake and with characters who just can’t stand up on their own. I shouldn’t be more interested in a flying bat machine that literally gets 4 sentences worth of page time than in Lois’s actual highschool friends. Can we just have a massive time jump and start writing the series from Lois’s perspective while at Daily Planet with Clark??

Serena’s Rating 6: I just love Lois and SmallvilleGuy so much that I’m finding it harder and harder to appreciate the other aspects of this series. But, of course, I’ll continue reading, because there’s no way I’m NOT supporting a “Lois Lane” series!

Kate’s Rating 7: The main plot and mystery isn’t very interesting, but Lois’s side mystery with SmallvilleGuy and the government’s hunt for the flying man has me fully invested.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Double Down” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA Superheroes (Not Comics/Graphic Novels)”, and “Fiction Featuring Lois Lane”.

Find “Double Down” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Mummy Case”

66534Book: “The Mummy Case” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Congdon & Weed, 1985

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Disgusted when he is denied access to the pyramids of Dahshoor and assigned to a “rubble heap,” Emerson finds his curiosity piqued when an antiquities dealer is murdered and a mummy case disappears.

Review: First off…what is this book description? No mention of Amelia at all? I got it off Goodreads and I have to imagine that it was re-written for a later re-print of the series, but whomever is responsible for it should be ashamed for so badly misrepresenting this book and the series as a whole!

So, with no build up whatsoever, I loved this book even more than the last one! Many of my favorite elements were still present, and the added characters were stronger than in the last, as well as the mystery and action being upped.

Amelia and Emerson are off on another dig, though much to their disappointment, they will be at a much less illustrious location than their fellow egyptologists who have managed to snag the much-desired pyramids of Dahshoor site. But perhaps this is for the best, since Amelia and Emerson must not only balance their dig, as well as the inevitable mysteries and deaths that Emerson claims that Amelia attracts to herself, but also their precocious son, Ramses, who is accompanying them for the first time on this trip.

Amelia remains, as ever, the darling of my reader heart and one of my favorite narrators to date. Her wit, practicality, and scathing observations of those around her are as strong as ever. And the relationship (battle?) between her and her husband is as fun as ever. So, full marks in those as carry over elements.

I have to admit that I was a bit concerned when I picked up this novel and realized that Ramses had grown to an age where he was going to be featured more strongly in the series. In the last book, he made a brief appearance in the beginning but was absent for much of the rest of the story. I was a bit worried that the humor that lies in his character (his sharp tongue, unbreakable “reasoning” for his misbehavior, etc) wouldn’t hold up under increased page time. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed Ramses as a character! Peters struck the perfect balance between featuring him as a new element, both in the series as well as his effect on the dynamic between Amelia and Emerson, and retaining familiar aspects of the story. He doesn’t overwhelm other characters, but instead draws out some my favorite aspects from before.

I also really enjoyed the side characters in this book. Unlike the last book which heavily featured original characters (to varying levels of success), many of the characters in this book are famous archeologists of the time. It was fun reading about familiar names, especially through the lens of Amelia’s and Emerson’s views of them. I’m sure there is a lot of creative leave that was taken, but it’s fun to imagine the real life individuals with some of the bizarre traits and habits that Peters ascribes for them here.

All in all, this was a great third book in a series. While I still very much enjoyed the second book, it was exciting to pick up this one and see that it had corrected many of my few quibbles from the last and was heading in a strong direction: no longer am I concerned about Ramses’ portion of the plot! Bring on the child antics! If you enjoy historical mysteries, and especially comedic writing, I recommend this entire series. It’s not strictly necessary that you read the first two, but why not when they’re this good?

Rating 9: An excellent continuation and proof that I should be less snobby about kid characters!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Mummy Case” is included on these Goodreads lists: “I shot the Pharaoh – Novels on Egyptian Myths and Mysteries”, and “The Funniest Books Ever Written (Any Genre).”

Find “The Mummy Case” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs”

Kate’s Review: “The Smaller Evil”

27774725Book: “The Smaller Evil” by Stephanie Kuehn

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: 17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

Review: This summer my husband and I went on a few airplane trips, and on one of them we were overhearing (okay, eavesdropping on) a conversation between two people in front of us. While we only got the context of their trip from this one conversation, it sure sounded like we were sitting behind a couple of members  going to a big cult meeting. We kept hoping that they wouldn’t turn around and see us and try to sell us whatever kind of nutritional supplement pyramid scheme they had gotten themselves into, and the moment that they mentioned that at the big welcome concert they had a strict dress code of all white, we looked at each other like

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Is this going to be on the news in the near future? (source)

I’m sure it was all harmless, but I did have a few fleeting moments of thinking about Heaven’s Gate and things like that. I also thought of a book I’d requested from the library, “The Smaller Evil” by one of my favorite YA authors Stephanie Kuehn. Kuehn has written some pretty intense thrillers for teenagers, thrillers that have enough appeal that I think would be pretty tempting to adult audiences if they were willing to just give YA literature a try already. I love her debut novel “Charm and Strange”, and I have had her on my radar ever since I picked it for Book Club during our inaugural session. Kuehn writes with intensity, passion, and a searing amount of pathos, as her characters are all very messed up and very alone in the world. I’m a true sucker for that. I had pretty high hopes for “The Smaller Evil”, what with the fact that it sounded like it was going to tackle the topic of cults. Because with psychopathy, child abuse, sexual assault, and mental illness, why not add something like this to her repertoire, especially since she writes on these matters with sensitivity and eloquence.

The cult storyline itself was a bit more Lifespring than Jonestown, which was not as interesting to me as I had hoped it would be. Which probably makes me kind of monstrous but eh, I’ll own it. I had hoped that there would be some really creepy scenes with group think and herd mentality, and while Beau and his followers were by no means totally on the up and up, bordering into unhealthy, I never felt like there was much of a threat from them. This made it so I wasn’t as worried about Arman, which in turn made me not as invested in him as I probably should have been. I also had a feeling about what the big reveal or twist was going to be, and then really felt it when a reference was made to a 1960s film called “Bunny Lake is Missing”, in which a mother of a missing little girl has her sanity questioned. I did appreciate the fact that it was unclear as to whether or not the main conflict, specifically Beau’s disappearance and possible death, was an actuality, or all in Arman’s head. And I think that had I not seen “Bunny Lake Is Missing” I wouldn’t have been able to figure out just what was gong on, but since I’m a cinephile with a taste for the obscure there mystery was kind of sucked out of the story for me. But then, I don’t think that it would have been so clear to me had I never seen that movie, so that is hardly Kuehn’s fault. I just wish that the conflict with the cult had been a bit more pressing, as as it was, even without knowing the connection, I just never quite bought them as totally threatening as a whole. Misguided and saps, sure. But not dangerous, and that took some of the suspense out.

However, this made it so my focus and interest could be solely on Arman and trying to figure out what makes him tick. Like I mentioned, Kuehn does a really good job of writing mentally ill characters in a realistic and gentle way. Arman suffers from very severe anxiety from the get go, and the reader is slowly shown what has happened to him in his life that has brought him to such a precarious state. He is always on the verge of an anxiety attack, and his first instinct is to run from the issues. When we meet him he’s on his way to Evolve, the compound in the beautiful backdrop of Big Sur, California, he’s stolen a lot of money from his drug dealing stepfather. Arman is searching for a father figure, as his biologial father is a criminal and his stepdad is just as dangerous. I wholly believed that Arman would find himself mixed up with the charismatic and potentially manipulative Beau, and I never questioned the choices that he made throughout this book. His mental illness also felt very real, and his anxiety never treaded into campy territory. It also always felt real enough that one could plausibly wonder if he was just a victim of his own delusions, without portraying him as a complete ranting and raving lunatic. The only aspect of Arman that I did question was his relationships to a fellow teenage member of Evolve named Kira, and his simultaneous dalliances with the beautiful and sexually aggressive camp cook. Neither of these characters were really fleshed out enough for me to really understand their motivations when it came to Arman, and it felt a bit too bad to me that the two potential love interests were kind of relegated to the sexual awakening (the cook) and the idealized but out of reach romance (Kira). The other female character at the forefront was Mari, one of the lower ranked officials at Evolve who puts the screws to Arman when Beau disappears. This book is definitely more about Arman and his journey, and while I really liked finding out what his journey was, it was kind of a shame that the ladies didn’t have as much time to shine or grow as they could have.

Though I think that “The Smaller Evil” isn’t as strong as “Charm and Strange” or “Delicate Monsters”, even a weaker story from Kuehn is still far and away some of the best writing for Young Adults out there. I am continually impressed by the stories that she tells, and I am once again going to have to wait for her next novel to come out. I really hope I don’t have to wait too long.

Rating 8: I was expecting more cult, but “The Smaller Evil” had me questioning everything that I was reading and on the edge of my seat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Smaller Evil” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Cults, Sects, and Religious Conflict for Young Adults”, and “Can’t Wait Books of 2016”.

Find “The Smaller Evil” at your library using WorldCat!