Serena’s Review: “Crocodile on the Sandbank”

188230 Book: “Crocodile on the Sandbank” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Mead Dodd, 1975

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Set in 1884. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn’t need a woman’s help — or so he thinks.

Review: I am on a constant search for new historical mystery series! There are so many of them, and yet, as my last foray into “The Anatomist’s Wife” proved, there is also a lot of variety in whats out there when balancing the mystery itself alongside any adventure/historical/romance genre elements. The “Amelia Peabody” series is one that I have heard a lot about, but have never gotten around to. I freely admit that the covers have always put me off, as well as the title of this first book which didn’t exactly spark my fancy. But, after my latest failures in this genre, I was ready to finally give it a go! Wow. Talk about cover snobbery leading me wrong! I absolutely adored this book!

 Before I start raving about the characters in this book, most notably, of course, Amelia herself, I will try and get through the standard parts of a review. For one, this book started out on a strong foot simply be being set in Egypt and featuring archaeology at the heart of its mystery. I greatly enjoyed the setting itself, and specifically Amelia’s no-nonsense, practical approach to most everything, never flustered by such things as sandy dunes and donkeys. No suitable housing situation? Why, she’ll make her abode in an emptied out tomb, nothing to worry about there!

The mystery itself was fun, if fairly ridiculous at times. But don’t take this as a negative, I laughed out lout many, many times in this book, and the romp, adventure, and questionably supernatural elements only added to what could have been a stuffy Victorian novel. But Amelia Peabody can never be stuffy, and so the mystery is not!

Amelia herself is everything I love in a narrator, witty, sarcastic, straight-forward, and, you have to imagine, slightly unreliable. She always knows best; she will take care of everything; if you don’t step in line, then you aren’t needed. All this wrapped up in a character who is, at her heart, a very caring individual, though she would never admit it! She takes in poor Evelyn under her wing, much to Evelyn’s own gratitude and, perhaps, dismay! Evelyn, herself, wasn’t a particularly interesting character, but I did enjoy the different parts of Amelia’s character that Evelyn brought out. And I always appreciate a strong female friendship in novels like these.

The romance was also lovely, being a very slow-burn, lightly emphasized affair. Emerson and Amelia are exasperated with the other right up to the point where…they’re not. But one has to imagine that with two such strong personalities, flare ups will always be inevitable.

As I mentioned earlier, I laughed more in this book than I have in quite a long time. I am so excited to pick up the next and see what adventures and villains lie in wait for Amelia next! I almost feel sorry for them, not seeing her coming!

Rating 10: I’m so excited to have found a new favorite mystery series! Amelia is amazing and I will follow her anywhere!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Crocodile on the Sandbank” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Historical Mystery” and “Fearless Females.”

Find “Crocodile on the Sandbank” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Girls”

26893819Book: “The Girls” by Emma Cline

Publishing Info: Random House, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Review: When I was sixteen, I read “Helter Skelter” by Vince Bugliosi. It was summertime, my sister, cousin, and I were visiting my aunt in Iowa City, and I would stay up late at night to read about Charles Manson and his cult of followers. I know that I’m not the only person fascinated by this case; there have been movies, miniseries, documentaries, and many books about Manson and the horrific murders his group committed at his behest. Because of my fascination, it should come as no surprise that I was super intrigued by “The Girls” by Emma Cline. Emma Cline already sold the movie rights to this book before it was even released, which only further demonstrates how we as a culture can’t get enough of Manson. “The Girls” isn’t really about the Manson family, per se…. But it totally is, as there are numerous parallels between the plot of the book and what happened in the California desert in 1969, from characters to circumstances to settings. But instead of focusing on Manson (or Russell, as is the charismatic cult leader in the book), it instead focuses on fourteen year old Evie Boyd. Evie is a restless teenager: she is dissatisfied with school, has few friends, is confused about sex and her sexuality, and resents her divorced parents. I think that it was a very compelling idea to tell the story of this group through the eyes of one of the members, especially the member who is still an outsider. Evie was more infatuated with Suzanne, a cool and beautiful older girl who takes Evie under her wing. The girl who is very blatantly supposed to be Susan “Sexy Sadie” Atkins, the Manson Family member who stabbed pregnant Sharon Tate to death.

Evie is a very compelling narrator, whose life we see during her summer with Suzanne and Russell’s group, and then in a more modern day time. In the modern timeline she gets caught up with a couple of young adults, a sociopathic boy named Julian and his devoted and doe-eyed girlfriend Sasha. While I enjoyed the flashback parts of the story more, the present timeline was a great way to show that while we decry and denounce the blind devotion the Manson Girls had towards Charlie, we actively encourage this behavior by making girls in our culture feel like they need the romantic partners in their lives, no matter how dangerously flawed they are. Evie knows this, as her need to be with and excuse Suzanne’s actions almost led to her own destruction. Seeing Evie have this knowledge, and yet be unable to show Sasha the terrible path she could be on, was one of the more melancholic parts (of many melancholic parts) of this story.

But like I said, the parts in 1969 were definitely the strongest parts of this book, and it wasn’t even just the cult stuff that was intriguing. Evie comes from a broken home, with her father married to a much younger woman and her mother seeking solace and fulfillment in fad self help therapies and new boyfriends. Both of her parents are so concerned with their own pleasure and happiness that they see Evie as a non-priority. So of course the poor thing is desperate to find some stability, and therefore drawn into this cult. By telling Evie’s story, we get to see a humanized side to a group of women (though so many of them were actually girls) who have been painted merely and solely as violent and foolish sheep. Is there a teenage self centeredness and feeling on invincibility that has some motivation in what Evie does, and what many of these girls do? To be certain, and it would be dishonest to imply otherwise. But Evie is here to remind us that ultimately, she is still a teenage girl, and that the things that she has to go through, both at Russell’s ranch and even at home with her actual family and friend group, are tragic and unfortunate. She is desperate to find acceptance somewhere, desperate to be loved, and because of this she willingly spirals towards a very dangerous conclusion.

Cline did a great job of creating and building parallels between the actual Manson Murders and what Russell’s family does in this book. Most of the characters have their real life counterparts (Russell is Manson, Suzanne is Susan Atkins, and I’m pretty sure Evie is Diane Lake, a fourteen year old who was caught up with the Manson Family), and the murders have similar foundations in the book to real life (Russell is denied a music deal, and sends his girls to attack the house of the man who he thinks did him wrong, just to find someone else there who they kill anyway). As someone familiar with and interested in the history of Charles Manson and his followers, picking out the analogs in this book was quite a bit of fun. Cline did a lot of research and put in a lot of the details of the original murders, while putting her own story into them as well. Her writing style is also a shining star in this book, as it flows and evokes the sights and feelings of this time period with clarity and ease. She gives Evie such a realistic and sad voice, and she manages to make this book seem less exploitative and seedy than it could have been. It’s definitely sad as opposed to titillating, and the tragedy is all over the damn place, on both sides of it.

Some of the sadness kind of spills over into today and current events. Just recently, Leslie Van Houten, one of the women who participated in the LaBianca Murders in 1969, was granted parole, only to have Governor Jerry Brown overturn it. I have a lot of feelings about this. On one hand, she is indeed a murderer, participating in the horrific killings of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. On the other, she was high on LSD at the time, and has really, really turned her life around while in prison, having gotten both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and has had positive reports by the prison staff. Not to mention that it was so, so many years ago, and the point of parole is to take all of these circumstances into account. Plus, he fact that a few of the dudes in the Manson group have been granted parole (ahem, Clem Grogan and Bruce Davis, both also convicted of torture and murder) kind of makes this all the more perplexing, and makes “The Girls” feel all the more pertinent. Girls who are brainwashed into devotion to a significant other (by both society and the perpetrator, in Manson’s case) are punished when they take that devotion too far. It’s just fascinating seeing Cline’s point played out beyond the page.

“The Girls” is a fabulous debut novel. Cline does a great job of not excusing the actions of a number of violent and misguided girls, while still showing the tragedy of their circumstances.  I hope that this is just the start to a long and great career for Emma Cline, because I’m on board. “The Girls” is tense and upsetting, and a must read for people who are interested in the Manson Family, if only to see a side that perhaps hasn’t been seen yet.

Rating 9: A dark and sad story of growing up, and a really well done fictionalized account of the Manson Family, specifically the women involved.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Girls” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Cults and Communes in Fiction”, and “The Femme Buzz: To Be a Well Read Woman Reader”.

Find “The Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

I’m also going to list some resources on The Manson Family, because there is a lot out there, but not all of it is great.

“You Must Remember This: Charles Manson’s Hollywood”: This podcast about Hollywood devoted ten episodes to Charles Manson, his Family, and Tinseltown in the late 1960s to give it all some context. It’s absolutely fabulous. Start here, and then you can find the way to the next episode at the bottom of the page.

“Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” by Vincent Bugliosi: This is the definitive book by the prosecutor of the Tate and LaBianca murders.

Flavorwire’s Charles Manson in Pop Culture Guide: A list of various Manson related materials as compiled by Flavorwire.

Biography.com’s list of the Manson Family Members: Links to Biography.com’s information about various members of the family.

 

Bookclub Review: “Bone”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Across the Decades,” we each drew a decade and had to select a book that was either published or set in that decade.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Bone” by Jeff Smith

Publishing Info: first published in 1991, assembled into one book by Cartoon Books in November 2010

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description: An American graphic novel first! The complete 1300 page epic from start to finish in one deluxe trade paperback.

Three modern cartoon cousins get lost in a pre-technological valley, spending a year there making new friends and out-running dangerous enemies. Their many adventures include crossing the local people in The Great Cow Race, and meeting a giant mountain lion called RockJaw: Master of the Eastern Border. They learn about sacrifice and hardship in The Ghost Circles and finally discover their own true natures in the climatic journey to The Crown of Horns.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I only started reading graphic novels a few years ago, so I had heard the title “Bone” thrown around for a while, but didn’t have many preconceived notion attached to it other than it was a classic graphic novel that I would need to get to if I was ever to have any cred as a graphic novel enthusiast. Well, I have accomplished it!

Like I said, I didn’t really have any idea what this story was about other than it featured some strange little while creature called “Bone.” Like…was this supposed to be like an animated skeleton bone? Or…? Very confused. But, after only a few pages, this really ceased to matter as I discovered just how enjoyable this story was going to be! Jeff Smith wastes no time explaining things, like what world this is, what are these creatures, even what happened before that finds us starting a story with Fone Bone, Phoney, and Smiley having been just run out of town. Nope, full throttle ahead! As you see below, we included a list under “Reader’s Advisory” for reluctant reader’s, and this book fits perfectly in that category. The adventure is exciting and instant, and before you know what’s happening you’ve been swept along and are wildly flipping from one page to the next.

One thing that stood out to me particularly was the witty dialogue. It finds the perfect balance point of being approachable for young readers, but there is a very adult level incorporated as well. It strongly reminded me of the humor you find in Pixar movies nowadays, particularly humor-strong ones like “Toy Story.” I was chuckling out loud often as the story progressed. Particularly, I loved the Rat Creatures and their bizarre relationship. The fixation on quiche is not only hilarious, but understandable: quiche is delicious.

I very much enjoyed the way smaller stories were wedged in within the larger mystery. There was never a dull moment, but for a story that is as long as it is, the main plot thread is drawn out in a steady manner, never disappearing completely and feeding just enough new clues to keep it in the forefront of readers’ minds.

There’s a reason this graphic novel series is a classic. Do yourself a favor and schedule a long, cozy Saturday afternoon to make your way through this epic adventure story.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I was first exposed to “Bone” back when the first story arc was being run in Disney Adventures Magazine, and child me really enjoyed it. Then in college one of my roommates had the complete collection, and I read the story in its entirety and loved it. So when we revisited it for our book club, I was super excited to go back and re-read such a fun story. I was kind of worried that it wasn’t going to hold up after ten years, but I am VERY happy to report that I loved “Bone” just as much this time as I did the times before. What I like the best about the story is the characterization of every single character. All of them are well realized and have realistic motivations, from Fone Bone trying to be a good friend to Thorn to Grandma Ben wanting to protect her granddaughter and her kingdom, to even Phoney Bone and his relentless pursuit for riches and power. Even the Rat Creatures, the villains and comic relief in some cases, have their moments of being well thought out and very realistic in their complexities and motivations. I suppose that if you have a story that runs for thirteen years you have lots of opportunity to really flesh out your characters, but it’s still a joy to see all of them leap off the page and into my heart.

Serena mentioned the wit and snark of this series, and I need to give a nod to it as well. There were times that I was reading this book and I would laugh out loud, like really cackle, to the point where my husband would have to ask me what I was laughing at because it was so prevalent. Much of the humor came from my very favorite character Smiley Bone, a light hearted goofball who just likes to be included in everything his cousins do. As you all know, I’m not very big into high fantasy stories in general, but the fantasy epic that is “Bone” is an exception because of these funny and witty moments and characters. Smith doesn’t let the story get bogged down by the dour realities of war and tragedy, as while they are definitely treated seriously, the moments of joy and humor balanced them out. I mean what’s funnier than seeing Smiley Bone dressed up in a really shoddy cow costume?

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I would argue nothing is funnier. (source)

And of course Bartleby. I cannot forget Bartleby. There was much aw-ing over how adorable Bartleby the baby Rat Creature is.

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I can’t with the cuteness. (source)

I could and would recommend “Bone” to readers of all ages, especially readers who enjoy an epic fantasy story. Because at its heart “Bone” is a well thought out and very well done fantasy tale that hits every point it needs to, and brings memorable and lovable characters with it. And along with being very well written, it’s also super, super cute. I’m so glad I was able to revisit this wonderful series.

Serena’s Rating 9: A great romp with a perfect mix of childlike wonder and adult snark.

Kate’s Rating 9: A well written fantasy epic and a beautiful story about friendship, peppered with hilarious moments and memorable characters.

Bookclub Questions:

1.) There are many great characters in this series. Who is your favorite and why?

2.) How did the illustrations aid the story? Are there any particular panels that stand out to you? Any particular story arcs that were better served by the illustrations (or weakened)?

3.) What did you think of the world building for this story? How was it similar to other fantasy adventures, and how did it stand out from them?

4.) This book is generally recommended towards kids, but tends to have an appeal towards teenagers and adults as well. What do you think it is about the story that has such a broad appeal for all ages?

5.) This story is very long, with the complete collection clocking in at 1000+ pages. Are there any parts in the story that could be cut out without hurting the overarching storyline?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bone” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Graphic Novels” and “Best Books for Reluctant Readers.”

Find “Bone” at your library using Worldcat!

The Next Bookclub Selection: “Revolution” by Deborah Wiles

 

Serena’s Review: “Star of the Morning”

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

Publishing Info: Berkley Trade, December 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory: 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory: 

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

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

Serena’s Review: “The Young Elites”

20821111Book: “The Young Elites” by Marie Lu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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Please please please please. (source)

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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