Serena’s Review: “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland”

18961361Book: “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, March 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling – a human boy — in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution–until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant.

Review:

This book marks a notable shift from the books previous to it in the series. Alas, our beloved September is nowhere in sight! And instead of experience the bizarre transition from “reality” to “fairyland,” the trip has been reversed with poor baby troll, Hawthorn, being selected as a changling and mailed (the postal service exists everywhere it seems!) to the “real world.” Here he faces the challenges of adapting his nonsensical worldview to a very sensible (or so it claims) world. While the story differs, the beautiful writing, philosophical musings, and abundant creativity remains. So following my established reviewing format for this series, here are a few passages that stood out to me.

Growing up has been a theme throughout this entire series, and this book was no different. The mixture of melancholy and joy, confusion and excitement, and the general sense that we don’t have this whole thing figured quite out is wonderfully discussed.

I shall tell you an awful, wonderful, unhappy, joyful secret: It is like that for everyone. One day you wake up and you are grown. And on the inside, you are no older than the last time you thought Wouldn’t it be lovely to be all Grown-Up right this second?

So, too, the coping mechanisms of childhood. I, obviously, identify with this last method.

Some small ones learn to stitch together a Coat of Scowls or a Scarf of Jokes to hide their Hearts. Some hammer up a Fort of Books to protect theirs.

One of my favorite things about this series are the quirky insights into aspects of life that, on the surface, have very little to do with the story of a Changeling troll or a wandering human girl in Fairyland. One of my favorites from this book:

English loves to stay out all night dancing with other languages, all decked out in sparkling prepositions and irregular verbs. It is unruly and will not obey—just when you think you have it in hand, it lets down its hair along with a hundred nonsensical exceptions.

Philosophical views on life are vivid and rich in this book. I’m still surprised by how seamlessly the author works these in. What could so easily become preachy and silly-ly on-the-nose instead reads as a beautiful side note placed directly next to an excellent fairy tale.

A choice is like a jigsaw puzzle, darling troll. Your worries are the corner pieces, and your hopes are the edge pieces, and you, Hawthorn, dearest of boys, are the middle pieces, all funny-shaped and stubborn. But the picture, the picture was there all along, just waiting for you to get on with it.

The other books probably had this as well, but in this story I found myself appreciating the shorter, one sentence thoughts that sprung off the pages. Someone should make a coffee table book out of these stories with some of these quotes.

She’s an old woman possessed of great powers–but aren’t all old women possessed of great powers? Occupational hazard, I think.

Lovely.

It is not so easy to always remember who you are.

True.

Rules are for those who can’t think of a better way.

Correct.

A thing too familiar becomes invisible

Worth an extra thought.

While the beautiful language and creativity remained in this story, I found myself missing our familiar characters. Hawthorn is a lovely protagonist, but I had spent three books coming to know September, and the last books ends with the feeling that she is on the cusp of something important. And, while she does make an appearance towards the end of this story and I see the neat place that this story fill within the larger narrative, I still found myself finishing it and wishing for a bit more.

That said, I still highly enjoyed this book and it is clearly setting the series up for this final book. I’m both excited and so, so nervous! Please let things work out for my lovely September!

Rating 7:  Still quite enjoyable, but slightly less preferred than others in the series

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” is included on this Goodreads list: “Fairies in Children’s Fiction” and “Changelings.”

Find “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Reviews: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” and “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There,” and “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.”

 

Kate’s Review: “Welcome to Night Vale”

25270656Book: “Welcome to Night Vale” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Publishing Info: HarperAudio, October 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Description: Night Vale is a small desert town where all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard are actually true. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge. Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked ‘KING CITY’ by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. She can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City before she herself unravels. Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it. Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: ‘KING CITY’. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures …if they can ever find it.

Review: In the summer of 2013 I discovered a quirky and strange little podcast called “Welcome to Night Vale”. This is going to sound incredibly hipster of me, but I got into it right before it exploded in popularity on the Internet and across geek fandoms everywhere. I followed it for awhile, as it really is my kind of story. It’s kind of like “Lake Wobegon” meets “Twin Peaks” meets “X-Files” meets “Parks and Rec”. The premise is that it’s a radio show of community updates run by a man named Cecil Palmer, and the community has black helicopters, monsters for librarians, floating cats, and hooded figures congregating in the local dog park, which may or may not transport you to another dimension. So it’s weird. Like, VERY weird. But it also has a lot of heart. I kind of lost interest after the StrexCorp storyline wrapped up, but I do still have a fondness for the universe and decided to give the book a try. I initially got it in print from the library…. But after perusing it, I was like ‘oh… Maybe not’.

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My thoughts: “Oh God, was it always like this? Was it always this aggressively quirky? Did I LIKE this?!” (source)

After having a crisis of faith in a podcast I had fond memories of, I returned the book and vowed never to speak of it again. But then I saw, months later, that the audiobook was available to download, and that Cecil Baldwin, the voice actor for Cecil Palmer and main voice of the show, was reading the book. So I decided to give it a try that way. And THAT, my friends, made ALL the difference.

So yeah, “Welcome to Night Vale” is weird, and is aggressively quirky, and yeah, it probably has a smug sense of satisfaction about itself and how clever it is. But Cecil Baldwin as Cecil Palmer just makes it so damn charming and makes the town so damn lovable that he really, REALLY saves the story. And he does the same for the book when he reads it. I think that as a book this kind of set up just doesn’t really totally work, so it makes sense to give it the pacing that an audiobook can provide because this is it’s home format. You need to listen to “Welcome to Night Vale”, just like you listen to the podcast. I can’t explain why. But you just do.

“Welcome to Night Vale” also happens to have a lot of heart buried in it’s creepy and strange and uncanny-esque premise, and the book has the same thing going for it. Though it isn’t in community radio format (sadly, though Cecil and his boyfriend Carlos DO make appearances), it does have strange anecdotes and oddities in a narrative sense. In the book we follow two women, Jackie and Diane. Jackie is perpetually nineteen, but she is also trying to find herself just like many nineteen year olds are. Her struggles are both strange, as she has a piece of paper permanently attached to her hand, but she wants to know who she is, as she cannot seem to remember. And then there’s Diane, whose son in a shapeshifter, sure. But their relationship is so damn spot on in it’s portrayal of a single mother dealing with a teenage son who is growing up and apart from her. It is the very parts of these characters that make them human that make the aggressive quirkiness easy to swallow. Even if “Welcome to Night Vale” is goofy and very, very strange, if you look past that, the characters are people with very real, touching problems. And I also really liked the relationship between Jackie and Diane, who are united in their need to know what King City is, but are still very different and aren’t always going to get along because of that.

But buyer beware. I think that unless you have a working knowledge of this podcast and the world that it has set up, this book will be very confusing and probably maddening to you. It’s working on the premise that you know what the scoop is with Night Vale, and it doesn’t hold the reader’s hand in the strangeness. It just leaps into the narrative full throttle. The podcast was always weird, but kind of gradually worked it’s way to where the story is now, and the book just goes into it. Which kind of makes me have to ask this question, if you jumped in and were surprised or indignant that it didn’t make sense to you:

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(source)

That would be like me jumping in the middle of a “Halo” novelization series and wondering why it was that I don’t understand what was happening. Those books aren’t written for me because I am not a “Halo” fan, and sadly, this book isn’t written for you because you are not a “Night Vale” fan. This book can’t stand alone, guys. It just can’t. You need to know this mythology. Which isn’t exactly a great thing for this book, in all honesty. The point, I would imagine, was to try and branch out to other people outside of the built in listener base. And this book probably won’t do that.

I thought it was fun enough. I’m not necessarily clamoring back to the podcast in a game of catch up, but I do still love Cecil Palmer the character and Cecil Baldwin the voice. “Welcome To Night Vale”, if listened to, should be a fun little bonus for the podcast. But a stand alone book it is not.

Rating 7: This will probably be fun for fans of the podcast, but I don’t think that there is any way that a layman could enjoy this book. If you haven’t listened to the show, this is NOT for you. Either jump into the podcast, or leave it be. Also, it only worked for me when I listened to it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Welcome to Night Vale” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists as of now. I’m not surprised. So instead, here is a link to a blog that has some read-alikes, and hell, here is the damn podcast. You really should start here.

Find “Welcome to Night Vale” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Ghost Bride”

16248223Book: “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo

Publishing Info: William Morrow, August 2013

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

Book Description from Goodreads: Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Review: This book has been hanging around on my TBR list for so long that I have zero idea where it came from, and honestly, had very little idea what it was even about. A historical book about Malaysia in the late 1800s? A ghost story? Fantasy book? Yep. Yep to all three. “The Ghost Bride” came out of left field and was everything I hadn’t known to look forward to.

There are so many things I could talk about with this novel, I’m not even sure where to start. First off, I guess, is the rich detail that Yangsze Choo brings to this story. The language, culture, and vibrancy of Malaya (now Malaysia) was so rich and nuanced throughout. It was like the most beautiful, most interesting history lesson on a part of the world and the merging of several cultures that I had very little understanding of to begin with. It was evident that Choo had meticulously researched her subject, and more impressively, she integrated these facts and details in a way that never felt unnecessary or distracting from what was, largely, a very action-packed story.

The story itself was also surprising. I guess if I had read the book description a bit more thoroughly, this might not have been as shocking. But the unexpected turn from a traditional, period piece story into a underworld fantasy adventure was a jolt to the system. And even throughout these more fantastical portions of the story, the narrative never lost sight of its foundation, even then laying more insight into the time period, culture, and religious beliefs of the people of Malaya. (It is worth noting that while elements of this story were created by the author, she includes detailed author’s notes at the end that explain her decisions and provide even more insight into the background of these elements.) Even the ending was unexpected. About one third of the way through the book, I thought I had a pretty good idea where the story was going. About two thirds of the way through, I had changed this slightly, but it was still pretty much the same. The last 50 pages? Nope, I had it all wrong the whole time and the story was even better for it!

The characters themselves were also well written and thought out. Li Lan is an endearing protagonist, Tian Bai a compelling villain, and side characters such as her loving, yet superstitious nanny, Amah, and Er Lang, a mysterious man who keeps crossing Li Lan’s path, add flavor and spunk to the story.

Additionally, I listed to the audiobook version of this story which was read by the author herself. She had a great voice, and her pronunciation was particularly useful for a book like this where I would have likely butchered half the words in my head had I been reading the book. If you enjoy historical stories with an fantastical element, definitely check out “The Ghost Bride.”

Rating 9: An  unexpected yet very welcome surprise! Just like the ending of the story itself!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ghost Bride” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Historical Ghost Fiction” and “Chinese and Japanese Fantasy.”

Find “The Ghost Bride” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

47763Book: “I Know What You Did Last Summer” by Lois Duncan

Publishing Info: Laurel Leaf, April 1999 (first published October 1973 by Little Brown)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It was only an accident — but it would change their lives forever. Last summer, four terrified friends made a desperate pact to conceal a shocking secret. But some secrets don’t stay buried, and someone has learned the truth. Someone bent on revenge. This summer, the horror is only beginning….

Review: Last month, the literary world lost a great YA thriller legend. Lois Duncan passed away at age 82, and I felt a deep, serious sadness. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Duncan was considered the queen of YA horror and thriller stories, and won numerous awards for the books that she wrote, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author who has contributed significantly to YA literature. While she has written numerous books, perhaps her most famous is “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. Most people probably think of the movie version that came out in 1997. After the success of “Scream”, Kevin Williamson wrote a new teen slasher flick based on Duncan’s book, which proved to be another hit with audiences. Hey, I will fully admit that the only reason I read this book for the first time in seventh grade was because my parents wouldn’t let me see the movie. But here’s the thing: Duncan hated the movie and what it did with her source material. Fact is, Duncan’s daughter was murdered when she was eighteen, so taking her book about personal responsibility and morality and turning it into a flick where teens are brutally killed by a guy with a hook? Didn’t sit too well. And while the film version is okay (if not a bit disrespectful), it’s a true shame because the book is phenomenal.

For the unfamiliar, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” follows four teens: Julie, Ray, Barry, and Helen. The summer after Barry and Ray’s senior year, the four went on a picnic in the mountains to celebrate the boys graduation. But on the way back, they accidentally hit a young boy on his bike. Barry, the driver, sped away from the scene, and after a vote of 3-1 (Julie being the dissenting vote) they decided not to go back, but to leave an anonymous tip on a pay phone. When they found out that the boy died en route to the hospital, Julie cut herself off from all of them…. Until the next summer, when she gets a strange anonymous note. All it says is ‘I know what you did last summer’. So she seeks out Helen (a local tv celebrity now somehow. It was the 70s.), Barry (a big man on campus and still a douche), and Ray (back from California and pining for her) so they can try and solve who is stalking them. There are no hooks. There are no twists about the man they hit actually surviving and having previously murdered someone. These are four kids who killed a child, and ran from the responsibility of it all.

Pretty heavy stuff for teens to read, and pretty dark for 1973 as well! But that is one of the many reasons that this book is far more compelling then the movie that was made of it. Our four protagonists (with the exception of Barry, I would argue) are all young adults that are, at the heart of them, okay people who made a terrible mistake, and Duncan writes them as such. The book is less focused on them being stalked, and more on the horrible thing that they did. True, there are some pretty creepy things that their stalker is doing in this book, and the big reveal is one of the best twists that I have ever seen in YA literature (and really can only work in book form). But at it’s heart, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is less about chills and thrills, and more about doing the right thing, no matter how hard and scary that it is. Unlike in the movie, where the characters are arguably pretty much objects that have terrible things happen to them, Duncan has written some very complex characters that you do fear for and care about. I think that Helen is probably the greatest accomplishment in characterization. Even though she is constantly praised for her beauty, and even though she is a local celebrity because of her TV status at the news station, her self esteem is crippled because of her past body issues and being treated like crap by Barry. She starts out as someone who is easily manipulated by him and wounded by his cruelty, but as the book goes on and she finds herself the victim of someone who is potentially worse than he is, she realizes that she deserves better and is a much better person than Barry makes her out to be. I love Helen. I love that Helen figures out that she is strong, strong enough to move on from him, and strong enough to face the consequences of her past actions. Duncan knew how to write well rounded female characters, even in 1973.

The one sad thing about recent editions of this book, and other Duncan books, is that she updated them to be in present day. I don’t know if that was her own decision, or the publishing company’s decision, but it just feeds into that so untrue myth that teens can only empathize and relate to characters who are just like them and the society they live in. It’s really unfortunate, as Duncan’s books, while a tiny bit dated, ultimately stand the test of time without the unnecessary time and technology changes. I just regret that I lost my copy of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” from my middle school years, and now you can only really find the new, updated versions. And this saddens me.

I am going to miss Lois Duncan and everything she brought to the YA literature world. If you haven’t read “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, you should definitely do so. While it’s not necessary to find an old copy, I strongly suggest that you do over the new editions. But regardless, just read it.

Rating 10: One of my favorite teen thrillers that many teen thrillers owe a serious debt to.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Teen Sceams”, and “Bring On the Creepy!”.

Find “I Know What You Did Last Summer” at your library using WorldCat!

Have Some Pride! YA Fiction with LGBTQ Themes

Pride is the time of year where members of the LGBTQ community can celebrate who they are and the communities that they are a part of, and promote civil rights and visibility for these communities. Given the recent violence in Orlando, threatened violence at other Pride events, and oppressive and discriminatory bathroom laws targeting trans people, it has become abundantly clear that Pride is still very important and necessary, and that the fight for safety and dignity has a long ways to go. Though June is the official Pride Month, Pride events happen throughout the summer. So we thought that it would be fun to give our recommendations for Young Adult literature with LGBTQ themes! Lots of great books with LGBTQ characters have come out of the YA writing community, and these are just a few of many great works.

11595276“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is an orphan living in rural Montana in the 1990s. Her parents were killed in a car accident at the same time that Cameron was having her first kiss with her best friend, Irene. Sent to live with her conservative Christian Aunt Ruth, Cameron does her best to fit in and hide her sexuality. That is, until she meets Coley, a spunky and chipper cowgirl. Cameron and Coley become fast friends, but when their relationship goes to a new level, Cameron is sent to a camp that is supposed to ‘cure’ gay and lesbian teens. This book is a tale of first great love, great heartbreak, and an empowering coming of age story. Filled with pathos and hope, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” will make you cry, think, and smile.

“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo 26156987

Moving to live with her father and starting a new school is a new beginning for Amanda. Small town Tennessee is very different from Atlanta, but Amanda is starting to adjust. She makes some very close girl friends, and starts to fall in love with sweet and sensitive football player Grant. But Amanda is worried, because she is trans, and is scared that if everyone found out she would be humiliated, ostracized, or much, much worse. Written by Meredith Russo, a trans woman, “If I Was Your Girl” is a story about being yourself and finding acceptance. It’s also on this list because Russo has a lot of background notes and information for trans teens and trans allies alike. Amanda’s story is one that is so very important in a time of laws like HB2.

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“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Bejamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante are as dissimilar as you can be, Ari being an angry teen who resents the life he’s living, and Dante a gentle soul with a quirky worldview. But after a chance meeting at the local swimming pool, a connection is formed and the two develop a beautiful friendship and come to more deeply understand themselves through the other’s eyes. It is also worth noting that Serena made the poor decision of bringing this book along with her when she was getting her tires changed one afternoon, and then spent the whole time sobbing into the book while trying to avoid eye contact with the very confused, 40-something year old men all sitting in the lobby with her. And Kate read it on a plane and bawled her eyes out for everyone to see while her husband pretended to not know her. It was awkward for both, but a testament to the true beauty and poignancy of this story.

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“Huntress” by Malinda Lo

The prequel to the also Malinda Lo’s also excellent novel “Ash,” “Huntress” follows the story of two teenage girls who set out on a quest to restore order to a failing world. As even this list highlights, many of YA LGBTQ stories out there take place in a real world setting, so this fantasy novel featuring a beautiful, slow-burn romance between two girls is a bit of a rarity. What’s more, Lo creates a world where the two girls’ sexuality is not a cause for them to be ostracized, which allows the author to explore other challenges for her characters and present a wholly new story.

13262783 “Every Day” by David Levithan

“A” wakes up every day in a different body and lives the life of that person. For just one day. The next “A” is someone else. Boy, girl, rich, poor, able-bodied, disabled. To survive, “A” creates a set of rules to follow to preserve sanity. Until “A” meets a teenage girl named Rhiannon and finds someone to spend every day with. Levithan takes what sounds like an absolutely bonkers premises and uses it to explore such a wide variety of world views and life styles. The fact that “A” lives life every day in a different body leaves the character’s sexuality as one that goes deeper than gender. “A” loves Rhiannon, regardless of the gender “A” currently inhabits.

These are our YA LGBTQ picks. What are some of your favorites?

Serena’s Review: “Palace of Stone”

12926132Book: “Palace of Stone” by Shannon Hale

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, August 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city is a thrill to Miri. She and her princess academy friends have been brought to Asland to help the future princess Britta prepare for her wedding.There, Miri also has a chance to attend school-at the Queen’s Castle. But as Miri befriends students who seem sophisticated and exciting she also learns that they have some frightening plans. Torn between loyalty to the princess and her new friends’ ideas, between an old love and a new crush, and between her small mountain home and the bustling city, Miri looks to find her own way in this new place.

Review: Continuing my self-education in middle grade novels, after reading and enjoying “Princess Academy” it was a quick jaunt back to the library to scrounge up its sequel. And, while the first book can be read as a stand alone book (a trait I will never not praise), “Palace of Stone” is a worthy successor, expanding the world of Danland and challenging Miri’s own perceptions of right and wrong and her place within this society.

This story picks up shortly after the events of the first book with Miri and her village enjoying the boost to their local economy that came with Miri’s discovery of the true worth of the linder stone that their village mines. However, when Miri and a few familiar characters travel to Asland to join the soon-to-be princess, Britta, Miri discovers how tremulous this newly earned freedom can be. Revolution is rumbling throughout the kingdom of Danland.

One of the themes that I most appreciated from the first book was its emphasis on the joy of learning. Here, this concept is expanded even further with Miri attending university while in Asland and dreaming of her plans to continue and expand the local school she’s been running back home. The cast is also expanded when she gains an unexpected friend in fellow scholar, Timon.

Timon serves a definite purpose in this book, as he is the conduit between Miri and the underground swell of revolutionaries. And this concept of revolution, history, and democracy is at the core of the story. I greatly appreciate the care that Hale uses in laying out this path before Miri, with all of the temptation, confusion, and impossible choices that situations like this cause. And, while this is a middle grade novel and with this comes, perhaps, a few too many convenient solutions, Hale also spends a good portion of the novel fully exploring these themes before wrapping up the story.

Timon also brings with him a love triangle, and here is where I’m not so sure. While I think I understand what Hale was going for, forcing Miri and Peder to challenge the realities of their relationship and feelings in an adult manner (rather than the ease of an early crush), I question whether this was the best route. It also could just be that I’m so sick and tired of love triangles that even ones that are introduced for a good reason and, largely, executed well, are still frustrating to read.

In many ways this book was a step up from the first story. But at the same time, I struggled with it a bit more. Perhaps I just had higher expectations for Miri and wanted to see more growth in her as a character between the last book and this. Of course, she’s still young, and, of course, the point of this story was to challenge her even further, but perhaps when I’m reading about a character who is contemplating marriage, I also wanted to see a bit more perception from her. Her naivety in the first book was charming and believable. She’s still charming here, but there were points where her naivety was a bit much. We’ve been presented with a smart character, some common sense and ability to reason through certain things while still being challenged by others would have been more believable and enjoyable.

For readers who enjoyed “Princess Academy,” this book is a fun follow up. It retains many of the traits that made the first book so enjoyable while also adding complexity to the challenges the main characters face. While there were a few stumbling points, I definitely recommend it as a strong sequel story.

Rating 7: Worth checking out!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Palace of Stone” is included on this Goodreads list: “The Best Fairytales and Retellings” and “Best Heroine in a Fantasy Book.”

Find “Palace of Stone” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Review: “Princess Academy”

 

 

 

Kate’s Review: “The Loney”

25458371Book: “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley

Publishing Info: John Murray, August 2015 (first published September, 2014)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.

It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.

I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

Review: Gothic horror is a genre that has been making something of a comeback in recent years. The themes of isolation and madness and the inability to trust what you are seeing are all very upsetting, and in a time when manor homes and country life has changed and dwindled these themes have evolved to fit even the urban life. So perhaps our recent fears of losing touch with each other in spite of being so connected have paved the way for this comeback. “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley goes back to the basics of the gothic horror novel, setting it in an earlier time and yet making it feel even earlier. Though it takes place in the 1970s in England, sometimes I felt like it was the turn of the century given the superstitions and moralities that ruled in this book.

It concerns Smith, a man who in present days hears of a news story of a child’s remains, found in the area where his family took a Catholic Pilgrimmage in the 1970s when he was a boy. He takes the reader back in time to this long forgotten and repressed weekend. His older brother, Hanny, can’t talk, and their mother Mummer, zealously Catholic and desperate to cure him, thinks that a ritual in this area will cure him. Her strict and dogmatic approach to Catholicism is in stark contrast to that of the new Priest, Father Bernard, who is far more meditative and lenient when it comes to Christ’s teachings. The Old Ways versus Reform is one of the many themes in this book, as change is both sought out but also feared. Mummer doesn’t believe that medicine can cure Hanny, but also thinks that this new Priest isn’t devout enough, in spite of the fact he very well may be representative of changing times and ideals. Mummer is putting her faith into Father Bernard, but has no actual faith in him because he doesn’t line up with what she thinks faith should be. The priest who better lines up with her was Father Wilfred, a tyranical and steadfast priest who passed away shortly before their trip, a death surrounded by strange rumors of it’s circumstances.

And then there are the locals, which consist of two groups. The first is a man and woman couple, and a pregnant teenager that Hanny is especially taken by. Smith and Hanny don’t get much concrete information about the girl, why she is here, and who the father of her child is. Just that this may not necessarily be her first time at the birthing rodeo. Then there are the strange men who wander through the countryside with their dog, and in and out of the pilgrims’ path. I couldn’t help but get some serious “Wicker Man” (the original, not the terrible remake) vibes whenever they came into play, their own beliefs in stark contrast to those of Mummer and Father Bernard (and the newly deceased Father Wilfred). They too have their own rituals and beliefs, and their own zealotry. I can’t say that the way that they were mysterious and threatening in their weird ways was a new concept, but it did serve an interesting purpose in this book when contrasted with Mummer’s beliefs. Mummer may be faithful and righteous, but she is cruel and cold to her children, especially Hanny. And then you have the strange and threatening locals who have their own anti-Christian beliefs, but who ultimately get shit done in their own ways, even if it is also pretty terrible. And given that this book takes place in Lancashire, the area that has a history of witch trials and witch burnings, the locals and their motives and powers are all the more relevant and creepy. It became clear by the end that “The Loney” was a meditation of faith, religion, and true belief at the expense of others. Even if true belief does work in some cases, there is always going to be some kind of cost.

I say that this is horror because the setting is classic to the genre. The characters wander around misty and dank moors, surrounded by coastline, marsh, and ruins. Smith feels alone in his own fears and skepticism of how this pilgrimage will go, but his love for his older brother makes him desperate to believe that all is well, even when it’s clear that it most certainly isn’t. But while the themes were spot on in this book, in gothic tone and religious reflection, I think that my biggest problem with this book was that it wasn’t particularly scary. At least not to me. I had gone in expecting some kind of slow burn creepiness that would unsettle me through and through, but instead I was just sort of ‘oh. okay’ by the end of it. The themes are interesting, and I liked the comparison and contrasting between the Catholic beliefs and the beliefs and strange, Nativity-esque ritual that the locals were doing (and whose grim climax fittingly happens during Easter weekend). The metaphor and symbolism weren’t lost on me. But I wish that it had been scarier.

For those looking for a scary book, “The Loney” may not be for you. But for those looking for an examination of deep and unyielding faith and the awful things it can reap, you may want to check it out.

Rating 7: A story with fascinating themes on religion and zealous faith, but not as scary as I had hoped it would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Loney” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Folk Horror and Mystery”, and “Best of Little Known Authors”.

Find “The Loney” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Untold”

15801763Book: “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

Spoilers for “Unspoken!”

Review: “Untold” picks up directly after the events that unfolded in “Unspoken.” The Lynburn family is in the midst of a civil war and the small town of Sorry-in-the-Vale is caught in the middle. Unwilling to simply sit on the sidelines while the fate of her town is decided without her, Kami gathers her friends and begins her own preparations. All while balancing her new, uncomfortable, un-linked relationship with Jared Lynburn. “Unspoken” ended with a bang, and between the now open secret that is the sorceror infestation in the town, and Kami and Jared’s evolving relationship from source/sorceror to…who knows what, there was a lot of material to work with. And sadly, I feel like most of that material was dropped in favor of witty dialogue.

This may be an example of an author’s strengths playing against her. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this story, too, was peppered with snappy and fun language. However, unlike the first book, the stakes are much higher from the very beginning of this story. There is much less room in the natural evolution of the plot for characters to all stand around chatting like they’re in an episode of “Gilmore Girls.” So to create these situations, the author had to put the brakes on her story and create relationship drama, all to a largely disappointing effect.

Unfortunately, that relationship drama manifests itself not only in the upping of the love triangle potential seen in the first book, but also in creating a tangent storyline for Holly who is dealing with her confusing feelings after being kissed by Angela. The love triangle is doomed from the very beginning. Aside from my feeling that it is impossible to write a realistic love triangle, this one is made all the more silly from bizarre situations like “oops, it was dark and I kissed the wrong boy!” to the classic misunderstandings that are only possible due to incredible amounts of plot acrobatics. And then when they “suddenly” realize things…

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And as for the drama regarding Holly, I have mixed feelings about this. In some ways, it was a great exploration of burgeoning awareness of a character’s more complicated sexuality, and there were some great moments where this topic was explored from a variety of perspectives. But at other times, it was used as yet another “misunderstanding” plot wedge between Kami and Jared, which just undervalued most of the work that had been done up to this point. Suddenly, Holly’s exploration of herself and her feelings for others was just one more crinkle in the main straight couple’s issues. That frustration aside, I don’t want to end this paragraph on a completely negative point, since I do still really appreciate the diversity that is the cast of characters in this book.

Another of the strengths of the first book was its inclusion of Kami’s family members as active, important people in her life (none of the “invisi-parent” that is so often found in YA). And in this aspect, “Untold” goes even further. Kami’s whole family is affected by this sorcerer war, having been connected to the Lynburn family for years in some mysterious way. Her father and mother struggle to reconcile their reactions to this changing worldview, and her brothers, Tomo and Ten, may be caught up in the struggle as well. Throughout the story, Kami’s thoughts are never far from her family, and it is clear that she loves them deeply and that they are at the forefront of her mind when she plans her resistance against Rob Lynburn. This was a refreshing inclusion.

So, while I did still enjoy “Untold,” I also feel that it succumbed to “second novel syndrome.” The author had to put the brakes on her own story so as to leave material for the third and final installment. And to do that, a lot of relationship nonsense was added. But, while disappointing, I’m still invested enough to want to read the final book, so that will be making its way onto my reading list.

Rating 6: A step down from the first book, but still enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Untold” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diversity in Young Adult and Middle Grade” and “Gothic Romance.”

Find “Untold” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous review: “Unspoken”

Kate’s Review: “Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird”

26030872Book: “Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird”

Publishing Info: Marvel Comics, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Description: Only Doctor Strange can protect our world from the darkness beyond — now, witness the full toll that constant struggle takes on Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme! Every spell cast comes at a cost, but what happens when Strange falls behind on his tab? Find out as the good doctor wakes up somewhere very odd, nearly naked — with no spell books, no weapons and no memory of how he got there…or why all the monsters are chasing him! And as a new visitor to Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum learns one wrong door can lead to oblivion, a magic circle of Strange’s friends and allies are about to face their greatest threat. Dark forces are destroying everything mystical in the multiverse, and their sights are set on this dimension. Magic’s days are numbered, and Doctor Strange is not ready!

Review: Okay, listen up, nerds. I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again. I am very solidly a DC girl when it comes to my comic book stuff and movies (Deadpool and X-Men being exceptions). I have dabbled in multiple Marvel comics, but ultimately (besides Deadpool) I haven’t found many Marvel stories that resonate with me, or that I feel a desperate need to continue. But I have always been vaguely intrigued by Doctor Strange. For one thing, the very premise of his character is right up my alley. I mean, sorcerers are awesome and I will always get behind that kind of thing. But the bigger reason is that on one of my favorite TV shows, “The Venture Bros”, there is a character named Doctor Orpheus who is based upon Doctor Strange. And I love me some Doctor Orpheus. Now Doctor Strange is no Doctor Orpheus, but I actually enjoyed this comic all the same.

What I liked about this comic is that Doctor Strange has found himself at a place where using his magic has caused him to play a very high price when it comes to his existence. He’s incredibly powerful and can help others with his magic, but all of that comes with consequences to himself. He lives in a very haunted and paranormally active house, known as the Sanctum Sanctorum. He can only eat food that is so far out there and filled with magic because regular food no longer sustains him, and even hurts him. He has few friends and few contacts outside of his housekeeper/cook/martial arts teacher/confidant, Wong. And while he thinks that he is fine in this existence, when magic itself starts to disappear from his home and his life, he has to come to terms with how far gone he is and how much he relies on it. And it’s cost to him. He is no longer able to do whatever he needs to do in terms of magical acts and powers. There are now consequences to his magic, and that makes him no longer the all powerful being that Doctor Strange has kind of been up until this point. It’s pretty dark in theme, but the tone never feels brooding or morose. It always treads the line pretty finitely.

This book also introduces us to a new character named Zelma Stanton, a librarian from the Bronx who is the perfect foil for our sorcerer. We get a human who is unfamiliar with this magic to fill in for the reader, who needs things explained to her the way that we do. But it’s done in a way that never feels over-done or exposition heavy. In fact, Zelma is a very fun and witty character who, I think, is going to be fun to follow. Also, HELLO, she’s a librarian! That alone was enough to make me love her immediately. I also do have to give some serious props to Marvel when it comes to how they handle adding new characters of different backgrounds, races, orientations, and histories. It’s always great seeing more diversity in comic books, so welcome Zelma and I hope you stick around!

The overarching mystery of where the magic is going has been put into motion, as other Sorcerer Supremes like Strange have been murdered. But it’s no where near being fully explained. I wasn’t as interested in this mystery as I was interested in Zelma, or Doctor Strange’s background and his present troubles. I know that some of his troubles are derived from this arc, but I would have been perfectly fine if this was just a character study of a person who can no longer function without an outside force there to keep them going. So I guess I kind of wish that this was going to be more like “Sandman” and less like other superhero comics. The good news is that it still has my attention. While I’ve looked at other Marvel comics and said ‘oh yeah, I’ll go on eventually’, only to not go on at all or to be disappointed by where they eventually went, I am looking forward to seeing where Doctor Strange is going next. Not enough to get me to go buy the comic books themselves, mind you, but still. I want to keep going. That’s pretty impressive in and of itself.

Rating 7: I wish that this was more like a Gaiman-exploring mythology a la “Sandman”, but “Doctor Strange: The Way of the Weird” entertains. Strange and Zelma are a good team.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird” isn’t on many lists yet. But I would recommend it if you like “Sandman” for sure, and the newer Marvel comics.

Find “Doctor Strange (Vol.1): The Way of the Weird”at your library using World Cat!

 

July 2016 Highlights

Happy July 4th everyone! We’re fully into summer now, and both of us are doing the usual summer fare of travel, relaxing, and lots of reading. July brings a new list of books that we are looking forward to reading. So let’s see what we picked.

Serena’s Picks

28862528Book: “Saga: Volume 6” by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

Publication Date: July 5, 2016

Why I’m Interested: While Kate usually covers all the graphic novels for our duo, the “Saga” series has been on of the rare exceptions of a series that I’ve been following. This sci-fi graphic novel series is absolutely brilliant. A humorous, tragic, romantic, adventurous romp of a story all wrapped up in beautiful, vibrant illustrations. I’m one volume behind at this point, but I’m excited to pick this one up soon!

23299512Book: “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: July 5, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Victoria Schwab, often known for writing under the pseudonym of “V.E.Schwab” (is this because she writes books that boys may like and “boys don’t read books by women authors”?? Hmmm), is an increasing presence in the fantasy genre. I have heard her works praised far and wide and have yet to actually get around to one of her books. This one, set in a world overrun by monsters, is touted as a dark, urban fantasy and sounds like it would be right up my alley. It features dual protagonists and is being advertised as the first in a duology.

29056083Book: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by J. K. Rowling

Publication Date: July 31, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Um. Obviously. I am incredibly excited for this release. However, I’m also a bit apprehensive for the Potter mania that might follow. This is a play, not a novel, and I’m not sure how well that is actually going to go down with many Potter fans who have started pinning all of their hopes and dreams on this work. All I can say is that J. K. Rowling is greatly to be admired for expanding her world in such creative ways (short stories, her website, and now a play), and I am thrilled to be along for the ride!

Kate’s Picks25251757

Book: “You Will Know Me”  by Megan Abbott

Publication Date: July 26th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: I have found other books by Megan Abbott to be very addicting and overflowing with villainous suds. In this book she takes on the world of teenage girl gymnastics, when a Katie, the mother of gymnastic’s prodigy Devon, has to decide how far she’s willing to go to achieve her daughter’s dream. Bella Karolyi, eat your heart out. I really liked “The Fever”, and I hope that “You Will Know Me” will be a good vacation read.

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Book: “Monstress, Vol.1: Awakening” by Marjorie Liu

Publication Date: July 19th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: It’s steampunk meets an alternate historical fiction universe version of Asia, so”Monstress” is a new series that I’m really quite interested in.  In a world where Arcanics, or magical creatures who can pass for people, are hunted by sorceresses called Cumea who wish to take all their power. Maika is teenage girl Arcanic who has a psychic connection to an ancient monster whom she hopes will help her survive. The art looks gorgeous and I’m in the mood for some more girl power in my comics.

28187230

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

Publication Date: July 19th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: I really, really, REALLY liked “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the grit-lit book that Ware published last year, and when I heard that she had another one coming out I immediately threw myself on the request list. When travel journalist Lo Blacklock starts the cruise assignment she’s writing, all seems like a dream. But when she thinks she sees a woman thrown overboard, she panics and tries to report it. But all of the guests are accounted for, at least that’s why they tell Lo, who wants to get to the bottom of it. I’m already freaked by cruise ships, so this will probably exacerbate that fear.

What books are you guys excited for that are coming out this month? Let us know in the comments!