Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2016: Picks 5 Through 1

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week! Today I’m finishing my countdown with my top 5 favorite books of the year!

 22567184Pick Number 5: “Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier

“Den of Wolves” Review

Juliet Marillier is one of my absolute favorite authors, so it’s no surprise that any book published by her will most likely end up on a list like this. This year we had the final (what looks to be the final, at least) book in her “Blackthorn and Grim” trilogy. I’ve really enjoyed this whole series as it represent a combination of many of Marillier’s staples (lyrical writing, an Irish historical fantasy setting, romance/adventure) and mixes it with new aspects (two lead characters, both older, a healthy dash of mystery/suspense, and a much slower burn romance). While I’m sad that the series seems to be over, “Den of Wolves” was an excellent final chapter for Blackthorn and Grim.

40158Pick Number 4: “The Queen of Attolia” by Megan Whalen Turner

“The Queen of Attolia” Review

Many of the books I’ve already listed have been the final entry into a series, so this is perhaps a strange choice as it is the second book in an ongoing series (there have been two that followed it with a third on its way this spring). But this book was really a game changer for the series. “The Thief” was brilliant with its sudden reveal towards the end of the book, but that just set the bar all the higher for this book. How do you keep your series interesting when the cat’s out of the bag with regards to your protagonist’s brilliance? Further, Whalen Turner sets the stakes even high by attempting a complete 180 with the villain of the previous book, bringing to life the nuanced and complex inner-workings of the Attolia herself. This book highlights how to do YA political fantasy right.

City of StairsPick Number 3: “City of Stairs” by Robert Jackson Bennett

“City of Stairs” Review

This book caught me completely off guard. It had been on my list for a while, but honestly, whenever I looked at it I was put off my an uninspiring cover and rather confused book description. But man, this book was great. It’s lead characters were brilliant: Shara, a “Hermione Granger” like chatacter, and her “secretary,” Sigrund, a giant Viking of a man. The world-building was amazing and creative: a world full of complicated history regarding colonialism and religion. Philosophical musings! Witty mannerisms! It was great. It’s technically the first in a series, but can also be read as a stand alone. I have to admit, it was such a high that I’m still scared to pick up the second. Maybe in 2017…

9591398Pick Number 2: The “Fairyland” series by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” Review
  2. “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” Review
  3. “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” Review
  4. “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” Review
  5. “The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home” Review

Look, I had to just include this whole series, other wise the entire list would have just been populated with individual entries for each, and no one wants that! The “Fairyland” series features some of the most beautiful, creative writing that I have read in…maybe forever. It’s a modern day “Alice in Wonderland” with more heart. September, Saturday, A Through L, and the many friends (and enemies!) they meet throughout the story are just so brilliant. Valente walks the perfect line between nonsense and poignant wisdom. What could have come across as saccharine in another author’s hand, instead reads as a beautiful and insightful look into childhood, friendship, love, and growing up.

311326Pick Number 1: The “Amelia Peabody” series by Elizabeth Peters

  1. “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” Review
  2. “The Curse of the Pharaohs” Review
  3. “The Mummy Case” Review
  4. “Lion in the Valley” Review
  5. Deeds of the Disturber” Review
  6. “The Last Camel Died at Noon” Review

Second verse, same as the first! All ten entries could have been just this and the “Fairyland” series, essentially. But truly, I do find it fitting that my top two spots went to a young adult fantasy series and a historical/mysteries series, covering all of my loves! This series made it to the top spot based on the pure, unadulterated enjoyment that all of the books delivered. There are probably other entries on this list with stronger, over all writing. Other books with more creative worlds. Still others with more complex plots. But none of them were as much fun to read as all six of these have been so far. What’s most impressive is the longevity of the series. It was easy to worry that the “shtick”  could wear off with repetition. How could the books retain their charm? Wouldn’t the wittiness of the characters become tired? Just how many murders can happen around this family? But hats off to  Elizabeth Peters. Thank you for bringing Amelia Peabody to life.

So there’s my list. So many great reads in just one year! Challenge to you, 2017.

 

 

 

Kate’s Favorite Reads 2016: Picks 5-1

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week! Today I’m finishing my countdown with my top 5 favorite books of the year!

26893819Pick Number 5: “The Girls” by Emma Cline

“The Girls” Review

This book was so not what I was expecting, but that ended up being perfectly okay. The Manson Family Murders are notorious, but when we think about them we think about Manson and the girls who went to prison. We don’t really think about the girls who were left behind in the aftermath. Emma Cline decided to take this question and fictionalize it, and brought us a very sad, tense story about how we view girls in American society, and how they react to how we view them. This book raised some important questions, and it was written in a strange and beautiful way. I felt so badly for Evie, our lonely and lost protagonist, and I also felt for Suzanne, the doomed and violent friend who was on a deadly path. This book was hard to read, but so, so good.

25533076Pick Number 4: “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

“Hex” Review

This was a year where I read a fair amount of books about witches, and “Hex” was one of them. And damn was it good and scary. I love a good story about witches that takes the puritanical terror of it all, and “Hex” does that perfectly, and in a modern setting! The town of Black Spring has been haunted by the Black Rock Witch for hundreds of years, and they have it pretty well under control, keeping it secret from the world. So of course some dumb teenagers are resentful of having to remain silent, and decide to post about her on youtube. With horrific results. This book scared the crap out of me, keeping me up and night, yet fearing that if I stayed awake I’d see a terrible shadow in the corner. Horror fans, this book is AMAZING and you need to check it out.

23308488Pick Number 3: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible” Review

Speaking of stories about witches, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa took the classic heroine of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and turned her and her aunts into some scary as hell puritanical nightmares! I had no clue that this was going to happen when I picked this comic up, and when it became incredibly clear incredibly fast that this wasn’t going to be like any other “Archie” comic I’d ever read, I was on board one hundred percent! The artwork is beautiful and eerie, and the story puts Sabrina in the sights of an evil succubus named Madame Satan. Oh, and her aunts are cannibalistic brides of Satan. OH, and Betty and Veronica are also witches. This series is genius, and I need more of it. Now. YESTERDAY.

25816688Pick Number 2: “The Fireman” by Joe Hill

“The Fireman” Review

Joe Hill is my favorite author, and I waited in abject anticipation for “The Fireman”. When it finally dropped this past spring, I was not disappointed, devouring this brick of a tome in a couple days time. Hill takes the apocalypse story and tells it from the perspective of the infected, humanizing them and also showing how scary they can be from those who sympathize towards them. His creation of the disease Dragonscale is harrowing, scary, and beautiful, and his protagonist Harper is a wonderfully well rounded heroine. And finally, his tragic character of John Rookwood, the Fireman himself, was one of my favorites of the year as well. His love for Harper was beautiful, their relationship sweet and strong. This book was just so emotionally charged, and meeting Joe Hill was the icing on the cake involving this book. Read it. It’s so good.

29436571Pick Number 1: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis

“March” Review

This personal and powerful graphic memoir is my personal favorite book of 2016. Yes, fine, it’s technically three books, but we’re going to take them as a whole. John Lewis chronicles his time in the Civil Rights Movement in these stories, and they are all so incredibly moving, resonant, and powerful that I found myself floored many times while reading. He tells not just his story, but also parts of the stories of those who were there, stories that may not be told all that often in American History. The art is also lovely, subtle and simple but still able to jump off the page and really kick you in the gut. In times like these, this story is more important than ever, and I truly and sincerely hope that educators will use this story to teach about human rights, civil rights movements, racism in America, and the power of resistance for years to come.

A very fulfilling year of reading. What were some of your favorites this year? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2016: Picks 10 Through 6

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week! So today I’m going to countdown from ten to six.

22840421Pick Number 10: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

“My Lady Jane” Review

My first pick is this quirky, historical comedy that completely blindsided me. It was a book that I had thrown on to a Highlights lists simply based on the wackiness of the plot synopsis (Lady Jane Grey’s story re-told in a manner similar to “The Princess Bride” and featuring a love interest who turns into a horse during the day). But it sold me! It sold me on solid writing, hilarious dialogue, a great heroine, and just the right amount of camp to become a real page turner. Just teaches me not to judge a book based on the weirdness of its description!

18068907Pick Number 9: “Court of Fives” & “Poisoned Blade” by Kate Elliot

“Court of Fives” Review & “Poisoned Blade” Review

Ok, so this is kind of cheat-y, but I literally rated these two equally in my reviews of them both, and as they are part of a series…yeah, I can justify this decision all day long, if you want! Featuring a spunky heroine, a diverse and unique world, and lots of action (not just the typical fantasy fare of sword fighting and such, but actual sports competitions) these two books were a blast. As a few more cherries on the top, it presented a YA heroine who has her priorities in the correct order and a love interest/romance plot that is believable and enjoyable.

17378527Pick Number 8: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

“The Raven King” Joint Review

Kate and I read and reviewed this entire series, and it was one that only got better as it went along. So, while I loved them all, I chose to feature this, the last book in the series, as my pick for this list. Enough can’t be said about Stiefvater’s skills as a young adult fantasy novelist. Her writing is so incredibly poignant and lyrical, her world-building is unique and often quite dark and daring, and her characters always pull at the heart strings. The balancing act that she pulls off with this series (especially with nailing an ending in this book that she had been laying the groundwork for from the very start), featuring so many distinct characters, perspectives and voices, all while never losing her way with a complex plot, is truly impressive.

27190613Pick Number 7: “As I Darken” by Kiersten White

“As I Darken” Review

I’m pretty sure I featured this book in the same bizarre “Highlights” post that included “My Lady Jane” and pretty much for the same reason: too weird not to read! And again I was blown away by another fantastic story! What if Vlad the Impaler was a woman? And she had a brother? And they had a complicated relationship, made all the more complicated by growing up as royal hostages and developing feelings for their mutual friend, the prince who will one day rule? This book is dark and deeply lovely, setting up complicated characters whose struggles are heartbreaking and wonderful.

The Last Mortal BondPick Number 6: “The Last Mortal Bond”

“The Last Mortal Bond” Review

I reviewed this entire trilogy on the blog, but only read this, the last in the series, for the first time this year. As we all know, sticking the landing is challenging in the best of situations. Even more so here, as Staveley had set up his three protagonists, the siblings and children of the recently passed Emperor, as at odds with each other, each one with different pieces of a very large puzzle at their disposal. The world building and plot are driven by a complex web of different political, religious, and cultural perspectives, so if you’re in the mood for detailed high fantasy that does have an ending not only in sight but in print (coughGAMEOFTHRONEScough), then this series is for you!

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2016?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2016: Picks 10 Through 6

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week*! So today I’m going to countdown from ten until six. There will probably be some familiar titles on here, but maybe a few I haven’t even talked about yet…

18692431Pick Number 10: “Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon

The first book on this list that I haven’t reviewed on this blog! This realistic YA book is about a girl named Madeline who has a rare disease that means she needs to stay in a very clean, sterilized environment, lest she fall incredibly sick. But when she meets the new boy in the neighborhood, she starts to wonder if she could have more. This book is poignant, sweet, and incredibly romantic as well. Though a little predictable, Madeline is so well written and the situation so unique to YA fiction it has to be noted and recognized. Yoon is a great writer, who will hopefully be gracing us with her books and words for a long time.

27064358

Pick Number 9: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay.

“Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” Review

Paul Tremblay’s newest horror novel, this one concerning the disappearance of a teenage boy, took some time to build up, but once it reached the breaking point it turned into a very disturbing, upsetting, and tragic read. Tremblay is masterful at mounting his suspense, and along with that he knows how to portray some very real and complex people in a heartwreching situation. I had this book in my mind long after I finished it, especially the concept of Shadow Doppelgangers, and “The Third Man” phenomenon personified. And plus, outside of the disturbing, his take on grief is so raw and haunting that thinking about it still aches.

25982692

Pick Number 8: “DC Comics Bombshells: Enlisted” by Marguerite Bennett

“DC Comics Bombshells: Enlisted” Review

This was a comic that warmed my DC Girl heart! I loved seeing all my favorite female superheroes from the DC Universe put in an alternate history WWII storyline, and I especially loved that so many of them were incredibly well thought out and strongly portrayed. It was fun seeing Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Supergirl, and many others settling into fun roles that reflect the time period, but also let them show off their unique strengths. And plus, DC Heroines fighting Nazis??? Boy howdy, am I there!! Comics fans looking for a gracefully executed feminist story should pick this up post haste!

23492288

Pick Number 7: “Hidden Bodies” by Caroline Kepnes

“Hidden Bodies” by Caroline Kepnes Review

I also read the first book in this series, “You”, but I enjoyed “Hidden Bodies” a bit more than that one. I think the reason for this is because Kepnes was fully comfortable with her sociopathic main character Joe Goldberg in this story. We know he’s a creep now, and we are allowed to revel in his reprehensibility and let ourselves enjoy it in a schadenfreude kind of way. I liked this one so much I actually listened to it on audiobook a few months after reading it, and I still laughed out loud and cringed at the seriously icky parts. I still hold out hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Joe Goldberg.

18339901

Pick Number 5: “Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale” by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa

“Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale” Review

I’m still dumbfounded that Archie Comics is the publisher that is putting out the best horror comics in the game right now. But “Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale” is a solid and scary zombie story. Aguirre-Sacasa does a great job of taking these familiar characters and turning them into zombie killers while keeping them true to their characters. Along with that, he makes a few of them far more interesting, and sometimes twisted, than their original iterations. Specifically the Blossom Twins, Cheryl and Jason. I’m still totally gagged by their relationship in this, in both meanings of the word. A great horror comic to be sure.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2016?

*Note: I won’t be including re-reads on this list. I love you, “Transmetropolitan”, but this is for new titles!

Not Just Books: December 2016

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

Serena’s Picks

ka-miracle-on-34th-street Movie: “Miracle on 34th Street”

Obviously this falls under the category of old movies we’ve “discovered,” but even that’s not true! Let’s be real, I watch this movie EVERY Christmas. It’s a classic for a reason and there is something to love for just about everyone. You have the romance, the friendship, the family, the humor, the villains, the court room action, and the feel goods. Not to mention, the adult in me loves this movie even more now than I did as a kid, with its main message being that even adults should believe in Santa Claus! And the larger message, that whether or not he was actually Santa Claus was beyond the point: Christmas is about loving and caring for everyone, and in that, Mr. Claus was the epitome of Christmas.

mv5bndawmdy0nja2ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmta1nti3nze-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show Episode: “President-Elect Trump: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”

Wild emotional swing in the other direction, my second pick is this episode on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” I’ve been watching this show since it started and have really enjoyed the mixture of comedy and in-depth reporting on often bizarre subjects that don’t get nearly enough attention.(Of course, comedy comes first, this isn’t real news, etc.etc.) Obviously, the “not enough attention” bit isn’t the case with this episode’s subject, and while I don’t want to get into the politics of it all, this episode, and particularly the ending, were a bit cathartic for me this last month!

mv5bmweyowvhmgitzjbjyy00nwq2lwizmdutzmfkzwqwyje1mmuwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndyzmju1odu-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_YouTube Series: “Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party”

My friend Emily (who will hopefully be a guest poster this coming year!) put me on to this YouTube series. For fans of similar YouTube sensations such as the “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” remakes, this will is a perfect next step, featuring some familiar faces! It’s been fun over the years seeing the evolution of YouTube, and it’s shows like this that really highlight the unique storytelling methods that cane be used on a platform like YouTube vs. traditional TV/movie plotting. It’s also hilarious, so there’s that. Will specifically appeal to English majors and book nerds!

Kate’s Picks

frasierTV Series: “Frasier”

Like Serena, this isn’t really a discovery for me. I have been a fan of the show “Frasier” since I was in grade school, but it has always been one of my comfort shows to say the very least. My husband is also a fan, and we have started a re-watch of it from the beginning (thank you, Netflix!). What I like best about this show is that even though it’s incredibly 90s in a lot of ways, it also stands the test of time with its themes and humor. Plus, everyone on this show is amazing, from curmudgeon-y Frasier, to kind and eccentric Daphne, to fussy Niles and grumpy Martin (and his adorably weird dog Eddie). Even Roz, who is a bit of a 90s relic in her trope of being ‘easy’, is still amazing with her snark and heart. I love this show and boy do I love having access to it when I need it most. Tossed salads and scrambled eggs….

scrooged_film_posterMovie: “Scrooged”

So speaking of all time favorite Christmas movies in the history of EVER, I am going to give a bit shout out to “Scrooged!” Now it’s true that “A Christmas Carol” has been redone and retold many, many times, and while the Muppets did a bang up job, for me Bill Murray did it best. “Scrooged” puts the traditional tale in the TV business in the 1980s, when greed was good and materialism was even better. Bill Murray as Frank Cross is a hoot, and the analogs for the other characters are also spectacular. My personal favorite is Carol Kane as a manic and violent Ghost of Christmas Present. Not only is it funny, it’s also very sweet (the romance between Murray and Karen Allen is just the best), scary (the TV headed Ghost of Christmas Future anyone?), and not at all twee (Calvin is the very best Tiny Tim because he isn’t saccharine at all!). This is the Christmas movie I’m sure to watch twice during the holiday season, and if you haven’t seen it, give it a watch next year.

unnamed-6Web Series: “UNHhhh with Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova

So for anyone who has been paying attention to my gif selection, it should come as no surprise that I LOVE “RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE”!!!!!!!! So, so much. But it’s the offseason at the moment, as “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 2” ended in October and the next season won’t start until next year. But I’m not worried, because I have the web series “UNHhhh”, which stars Trixie Mattel and Katya. They were two shining stars on a pretty lackluster season (Season 7, sorry Violet Chachki), and now they have their own web series where they just riff and wax poetic about random things, playing off each other and just being silly. Many delights include talking about bad hookups, Katya’s obsession with the movie “Contact”, and really funny editing that mimics the stories they tell. It’s crazy and irreverent and crude and adorable.

What non-book pop culture things have you been obsessed with this month? Tell us in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Ice”

6321845Book: “Ice” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

Review: I recently read and liked “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst, and after putting together our list of favorite holiday reads that included a re-telling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” I discovered the perfect combination of the two with “Ice!” Or…what I thought would be the perfect combination. Sigh.

The story starts out strong enough. I enjoyed the unique approach of setting the story in the modern world with Cassie and her father living in a research station in the Arctic. Cassie herself is introduced as a capable and intelligent protagonist. She conducts research herself and knows much about the Arctic environment and local wildlife. Enough to know that the polar bear tracks she’s seeing are much too large for the regular animals that roam the area.

Another plus has to do with some of the fairytale aspects and their interpretation in this story. The mythology and characters that were introduced were interesting and cleverly tied together, working well within the original fairytale mold while not feeling too tied down by it. The author struck a nice balance between incorporating these portions while also tying the story neatly into Intuit culture and folklore. I also enjoyed the more proactive role that Cassie originally takes in this tale> She makes a bargain of her own with Bear, insisting that she would only agree to marry him if she saved her mother. That said, this initial level of competence and independence on Cassie’s part only serves against the story later when she loses these exact traits in rather disturbing ways.

Most of the portions of the book that I enjoyed most arrived in the first half of the book, and I was pretty fully on board. But then…look, one of the main falling points for retellings of this story is giving the character of Bear a strong enough personality that he stands on his own and makes the slow-burn romance believable. And, while Bear does have somewhat of a personality, the story starts faltering right off that bat. Their relationship, one based on distrust and a forced situation, develops far too quickly to friendship and love. And while this is frustrating, it’s a familiar pitfall. But then…it’s the story takes a nosedive into “Breaking Dawn” territory with a forced pregnancy. Essentially, Bear magically deactivates Cassie’s birth control and then informs her of this after she’s three months pregnant. And from there on out the story just kind of died for me.

While Cassie is initially angry, she comes around to things way too easily. Bear as a romantic lead was killed for me, as this type of behavior is the epitome of abusive. Further, not only has Bear treated Cassie as the human equivalent of an incubator taking no consideration for her own choices about motherhood (she’s 18, remember!), but for the last half of the story, almost every other character she interacts with takes the same approach. Her decisions are constantly questioned with the worry that she’s “risking the baby” and it all gets to be too much. First, the fact that there is no concern expressed for Cassie herself, but only for the child, is saddening. And secondly, Cassie has already had the decision to be a parent taken out of her hands, but now her decisions for how to prioritize her life, protect those she loves, not just the baby, and operate as an individual are being questioned at every moment, as if she has no other purpose than to be pregnant. All of this was incredibly frustrating to read. And I could never get back on board with any romance between Cassie and Bear.

This was a very disappointing read for me. I have read other books by this author and really enjoyed them, so I had high expectations for this story. And the first half is so strong that it makes the large missteps of the latter half all the more frustrating for potential squandered. I really can’t recommend this book. There are much better re-tellings of this story, like “East,” the one I recommended in our “Holidays Favorites” post.

Rating 2: A strong start brought down by some really poor story decisions and an icky non-romance.

Reader’s Advisory:

Note: I don’t agree with this book’s deserving of being on these lists, quality-wise,  but hopefully there are some better ones to be found!

“Ice” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems” and “Fractured Fairy Tales & Story Retellings.”

Find “Ice” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth”

28561926Book: “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Publishing Info: Random House, January 2017 (upcoming)

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC through Random House (won on LibraryThing), for which I will give an honest review. Thank you, Random House and LibraryThing!

Book Description: In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

Review: I can hear it now. When “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is officially published, I’m going to bet that there are going to be people who grouse that it’s either unrealistic, or an unfair portrayal of teenagers. But let me tell you. I knew these kids in high school. I basically went to this high school, though mine was in the Midwest and not on the West Coast. I knew kids who were vicious and mean to those who were different to the point that it became sadistic. I knew kids who were under incredible pressure to get into good schools because it was expected of them, and that it nearly broke them. I knew kids with serious drug problems who were shielded by their wealthy parents and faced few repercussions, while kids from less advantaged backgrounds were facing expulsion for not having good enough grades. It wasn’t wealthy enough for “Cruel Intentions’… but it was a Minnesota version of ‘Cruel Intentions’.

giphy4
All Kathryn needs is a winter parka and a toque. (source)

Suffice to say, this book was kind of like a walk down memory lane, the only difference being that in MY day there was no social media to make things that much worse. Thank God. So yes. While it may not reflect the experiences of all teenagers, it sure reflects the experiences of some.

What struck me hardest about “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” was that, while it was kind of a soapy thriller grit lit novel in some ways, it really read more like a character study of a number of privileged kids, and who they turn into after one terrible, avoidable tragedy. I liked that we were given a framework, a moment that has changed the lives of a number of kids (some tragic, some sympathetic, many horrible), and we get to see how this moment has predetermined how they are going to end up, in a way. This character study is seen through the eyes of a new, young, teacher named Miss Nichols. I think that it was a good idea to have her be the thread throughout this novel, a Greek Chorus to tie all of these other stories together, to show how they connect to each other and how they affect each other. But at the same time, much of my frustration was aimed at Miss Nichols, whose decision making skills and naïveté were a bit hard to fathom at times. It was as if her desire to understand and sympathize with these kids was being punished, which felt pretty cynical. But at the same time, it was kind of refreshing that this wasn’t just another ‘how do I reach these kids?!’ kind of moment, and that these kids can’t be reached because they don’t want to be reached, and the world has convinced them that they don’t have to be. That said, GOSH I wanted to smack Miss Nichols upside the head a few times.

I was far more interested in the perspectives of the kids, because we did get to see how their various lives were being shaped and destroyed by parental coddling/expectations, their wealth, and their seeming ability to be completely untouchable. For me the two most interesting characters we examined were Abigail and Elisabeth, both struggling with their own problems of teenage girlhood. Abigail is an honors student striving for good grades so she can go to a good school, but she has also found herself tangled up in an illicit romance with a teacher, Mr. Ellison. But Abigail was also one of the main instigators of a horrendous bullying episode in eighth grade, whose participation and needling led to the overarching tragedy of the story, and the end of her most important friendship. It was pretty fascinating to get to see all these different angles of Abigail, and while I definitely felt terrible for her in some ways (she is, after all, being manipulated by a sexual predator), she is also absolutely terrible in other ways in how she treats others. Her multifaceted personality was realistic, and a bit more in depth than some of the other awful kids she surrounded herself with. Elisabeth, however, was a surprising character altogether. So much of what we saw of her at first was from the perspective of those around her, from a moment of compassion towards a bullied classmate (with a sad face emoji in the group chat he was being harassed on), to others, including adults, thinking of her as a beautiful girl who is a sex object to all the men and boys around her. But then we find out that her aloofness is hiding her painfully shy personality, and a troubled home life that has pushed her to dark places. Her perspective chapter was the one that hurt the most to read, but in turn she was also the student that I was rooting for the most. It was just so interesting that I as the reader went in with certain expectations about her based on what other characters said, only to find someone completely different, but only when I actually had to listen to/ read about her from her perspective. It was very well played.

So in all, this is an upsetting book, but I do think that there is quite a bit of truth to it. While it shows the dark and disturbing places that high schools, especially those with unlimited access to money and little consequences to their actions, it also shows that things do go on, and that life will keep going after it for those who just hang in there, and learn from their mistakes. And again, as someone who went to a school like this, I found it to be one of the most relatable books about teenagers that I’ve read this year.

Rating 8: An entertaining and addictive look into the dangers of privilege and how bad teenagers can be to each other, and how they can blindly hurt themselves as well.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is not on any lists on Goodreads yet, but I think that it would be a good fit on “The Best of Prep” and “High School Experiences”.

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is not out yet and not available on WorldCat. It is expected to be published on January 10th, 2017. Thanks again to Random House and LibraryThing for providing this ARC!