Serena’s Review: “The Bloodsworn”

28439795Book: “The Bloodsworn” by Erin Lindsey

Publication Info: Ace, September 2016

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

Book Description: Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.

Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear…

Review: The final book in the “Bloodbound” trilogy starts out with our heroes in what appears to be an unwinnable situation. King Erik is being controlled by a bloodbinder making him erratic and prone to paranoia (the extreme kind that leads to executions of close friends and family for “treason”). Rig’s battle at the front line has pretty much reached its limit with invasion imminent. Alix must venture deep into enemy territory to attempt to kill the bloodbinder who is controlling the King. And Liam is left to manage a country that is on the brink of destruction, all while hiding the fact that he has the King locked up in a room in the castle. A fact that would surely lead to his immediate death if it were to be discovered. The stakes are high.

At this point, it’s almost hard to remember that this series started out more as a romantic romp with some military/fantasy aspects thrown in than anything else. Sure, there was a large battle at the end and some political maneuvering here and there. But there were a lot of quieter moments where Alix’s personal life was the primary focus. Then the second book came along and everything changed. That entire book was just one massive failure after another for our heroes. And here, in the third, everything just seems kind of hopeless. All of the odds are stacked against them, and even their best case scenarios look grim. I mean, sure, if Alix saves the King, great! But they still have to deal with the fact that they have no allies (having blown their ambassadorial trips in the second book) and an enemy with an army that doubles their own.

I was happy to see that Alix once again played a major part in this story. While I still very much enjoyed the second book, her reduced presence was my biggest complaint. Instead, understandably, given his brain-washed state, Erik takes a back seat to the other characters here. I also liked the fact that Alix’s story line once again took us into the neighboring realms, this time their occupied neighbor whose resistance fighters had helped Rig win significant battles in the second book. Vel, also, played a more important role in this book, joining up with Alix on her quest to find the bloodbinder. I still struggled to like Vel as a character, though she had some good moments in this book. While it made sense to pair up these two women both for the plot and due to the dynamics that come from their relationships with Rig, I think that it also had the unintended result of negatively contrasting Vel to Alix. But this is a pretty subjective viewpoint of my own, more than anything.

Due to the high stakes nature of most of the action in this book, the story definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. There were parts of it where I seriously struggled with the fact that because I was listening to an audiobook and wasn’t able to skim forward and relieve any of the tension. The author did a great job balancing her parallel viewpoints and story lines in a way that just ratcheted up the stress levels on all fronts. And, while the series as a whole is obviously set up to be a generally “feel good” read, the grim realities of war are never glossed over and there were a few tough moments. Alix, in particularly, had a rough road to travel.

And, importantly, the personal relationships between our main characters were not shunted to the side even in the midst of all of this narrative upheaval. Alix and Liam’s marriage is still new and being tested by their own insecurities. Liam and Erik are still learning what it means to be brothers, especially given the effects of Erik’s brainwashing and his lingering pain due to the death of his other brother in the first book. Rig and Vel…yeah, I cared less about this. But it was fine, too.

Ultimately, this series was a very satisfying and consistent read. All three books were strong and the characters and plotlines built steadily over the course of the series with very few stumbling blocks. I would recommend this series for fans of political/military fiction with a strong female lead more than for fantasy lovers. While the fantasy element is important to the story, it is definitely less of a focal point than the rest. This is a lesser known series, but one that I hope begins to get the recognition it deserves!

Rating 8:  A solid ending to the trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodsworn” is a newer book and isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Military Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodsworn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Haunted”

176339Book: “Haunted” (Fear Street #7) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1990

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

Book Description: Melissa woke up screaming. The prowler was at her window…or was he? The recent headlines about a Fear Street prowler had everyone on edge. Her father now kept a loaded pistol in his bedroom. That made it even more frightening—and real.

Then the haunting began: her new car driving as if someone else had taken control; her birthday presents ripped open by unseen hands; an invisible force trying to push her out the bedroom window.

Out of the shadows of her bedroom came a menacing figure. Who was he? Did he really come from beyond the grave? And why had he come to kill her? If Melissa doesn’t solve the mystery fast, these questions will haunt her—to death!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Melissa Dryden is awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching at her bedroom window. She screams her head off, and her loving (and actually pretty functional) father come running. When she tells him that she’s convinced it’s certain death outside, he discerns that it is, in fact, a tree branch tapping at the glass. Mrs. Dryden comes in next, more irritated than concerned. Melissa says she thought it was the Fear Street Prowler (oh Fear Street!), and Mrs. Dryden says that’s silly because they’ve lived here for so long and nothing bad has ever happened to THEM, so why would badness happen now? Solid reasoning. She also points out that Melissa’s hair is super tangly (to denote that it’s ‘wild and blonde’), and Mr. Dryden asks why she’s wearing one of his pajama tops to bed (to denote that she is ‘quirky’, I guess?). He then assures her that she shouldn’t be scared because he has a new silver pistol, which he reveals to her after making her come with him to her parents bedroom, and proceeds to spin on his finger, in spite of the fact it’s loaded. I take it back, Mr. Dryden isn’t as functional as I said before. Before falling asleep she reminisces about her boyfriend Buddy, who got a little handsy and wasn’t really down with taking ‘no’ for an answer. So there’s that.

The next day we find out that Melissa’s birthday is coming up. This is made further evident by her father giving her a brand new Pontiac Firebird. Whoa damn. This, of course, also let’s us know that her family is SUPER wealthy, but we find out that her father didn’t start that way and pulled himself up by the bootstraps to get there. I could go into a lecture about the GI Bill and various other Homestead Acts making this a nonsense argument, but I won’t. Melissa takes it out for a spin, thinking about how envious her friends are going to be… But then the steering wheel starts to spin out of control of it’s own volition and she almost runs into an oil truck.

At her birthday party we are introduced to Melissa’s friends. One of whom is Della, from “The Overnight”! And since it seems that Melissa is now Della’s BFF, we can surmise that Della finally dumped that histrionic and selfish bitch Maia. Good for her! Buddy eventually shows up and some of the boys at they party start making innuendoes about their sex life, and I felt more uncomfortable than Melissa did. After some dancing and some cake, Melissa goes to open her gifts… but they’ve been ripped open and strewn about! How odd. After her friends leave and her parents come home, Melissa feels secure enough to go to bed, wondering who could have possibly ripped her gifts apart. As she’s falling asleep, a strange looking young man steps out of the shadows!! Thinking it’s the prowler, Melissa starts to scream. When her parents bursts in, the Shadow Guy has disappeared, and they can’t find him anywhere. Melissa is convinced she saw something, and while Dad is willing to coddle her Mom isn’t having any of it. They tell her to go back to sleep, and she says she will. While gazing out the window, strong hands try to push her, and while she pulls herself back in, when she turns around there’s no one there.

The next day Melissa goes to tell Buddy what happened. Predictably, he thinks that she’s just imagining everything. So she decides to go hang out at the mall with Della and some rich bitch named Krissie who has fun poking fun at people who aren’t as stylish as she is. Melissa actually has a pretty compassionate moment where she tells Krissie that they, as wealthy girls, have no right to feel superior because they just lucked into their wealth and didn’t earn it. Damn, girl. As she’s driving home in the non-Firebird car (still in the shop), it gets really cold, and suddenly in the front seat, from the description given, Ralph Macchio’s Johnny from “The Outsiders” is there!

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Sans french fries, though. (source)

Melissa, so surprised, rear ends the car in front of her. When the angry businessman in the vehicle confronts her, she realizes that she’s alone again. The man, thinking that she’s stoned, decides to just let it go because their cars are pretty much fine, and he must be able to tell that she is a little off.

At dinner that night, Melissa doesn’t bring up the accident but does tell her parents that she’s being haunted by a ghost. They brush it off, chalking it up to a need for attention, and invite her to go with them to their ‘lawyer convention’ in Las Vegas. Okay, as a daughter of two lawyers, I can tell you that they never went to ‘lawyer conventions’. This is indeed a strange universe. Melissa doesn’t want to go, and they say that she needs to get out more. Luckily she has a date with the sexual predator Buddy, so she can throw that at them. When she’s getting ready, Ralph Macchio shows up again, and this time he actually talks to her through a sneer. When she says he made her dent her parents’ car, he basically says ‘So what, you can just buy a new one, right?!’ Oh. I see. This really is the greasers vs the socs and Melissa is going to be Diane Lane’s Cherry. Ralph Macchio tells Melissa that his actual name is Paul, and he is here for a reason: HE’S HERE TO KILL HER BECAUSE SHE KILLED HIM. Honestly he’s less Johnny and more Dally because of this. Melissa has no idea what he’s talking about, as she thinks she’d remember if she killed someone, and Paul admits that, yeah, his memory is kind of fuzzy. But she’s rich, and rich people are liars, so she must be lying! Melissa strikes a deal, saying that if he doesn’t kill her she’ll help him find out who did, and he grudgingly accepts.

Deciding to confide in Buddy (who seems more interested in driving her newly ‘fixed’ car than talking with her), Melissa asks him if he remembers a boy named Paul who died recently. Buddy has no memory of this, so she tells him the whole story, I guess forgetting how condescending he was earlier. He tells her that she straight up needs some therapy. Thinking she can prove it, she takes Buddy back to her house, thinking that Paul will just appear at her beck and call. They get to her house, and Melissa notices that her parents’ car is gone. So they are KIND of alone, except for the live in house keeper, Marta. Melissa pulls Buddy up to her room, and they do hear strange footsteps… But it’s just Marta, telling Melissa her parents are out and that she’s wrapping up the dishes and then going STRAIGHT to bed. Marta basically falls short of tossing Melissa a condom and winking. Eventually Melissa and Buddy do start kissing, but their make out session is interrupted when Paul appears and tries to punch Buddy in the back of the head. Melissa freaks out, but Buddy sees nothing and feels nothing. Thinking his girlfriend is nuts, he leaves. Melissa and Paul argue, and Paul says that he isn’t going to kill her yet. He wants to have some ‘fun’ first. I think this is suppose to be showing he’s a rogue, but it comes off as gross.

The next day Melissa goes to the library to try and do some research, but doesn’t find anything about a dead boy named Paul, and wonders if he went to South instead of their high school. She runs into Della, who says her cousin Tracy goes to South. It’s a dead end, though, as while a boy DID die at South, his name wasn’t Paul, it was Vince.  Melissa goes home and finds Buddy is there, having been let in by her folks, who have left again. They go on a date to a dance club called Red Heat, which apparently was an old machine shed. They talk a bit, but then she brings up Paul again and Buddy is DONE. They get into a fight and Melissa leaves the club, finding a bunch of greasers on some car hoods… INCLUDING PAUL?!?!?! He says that he doesn’t know who she is, and starts to hit on her really aggressively. See, such a Dally, like I said before. Of course, if Melissa is our Cherry for this metaphor….

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Sorry guys, “The Outsiders” analog is here to stay. (source)

But, like Dally, Paul is a real jerk, and grabs her a little to tightly. Something a ghost can’t do. Melissa ends up running back to Buddy and he takes her home. When she gets home Ghost!Paul is there, but she doesn’t ask him why she saw him very alive earlier, and just tells him to buzz off.

Melissa tracks down one of Paul’s friends, Frankie, and starts interrogating him. He tells her that Paul is his best friend, and he is very NOT dead. Melissa sees this for herself again when she runs into Alive!Paul, who continues to act like a total jerk to her. She asks why he’s acting this way when she just wants to help him, and he’s very confused. She leaves.

Jesus this is a long one guys.

She gets home and confronts Ghost!Paul, who says he was NOT at the club nor did they just see each other. So they come up with the theory that Ghost!Paul isn’t from the past, but from the FUTURE, and that Melissa hasn’t killed him yet!! Now things are getting interesting! Melissa says that it’s easy, she just won’t kill him. Girl hasn’t read any Greek tragedies, has she? They decide to go find Alive!Paul and try to warn him. But, shock and awe, Ghost!Paul can’t be seen by Alive!Paul, so she just ends up sounding like a crazy person. Alive!Paul goes to meet up with his friends, and they talk about this hot rich girl who is following him, AND the fact that it is, indeed, Paul who is the FEAR STREET PROWLER!!! Oh man, this just gets better and better. It’s at this point I figure out where this is all going. Ghost!Paul follows Alive!Paul and is horrified by his life choices, making my metaphors work perfectly, because Ghost!Paul is clearly Johnny and Alive!Paul is Dally and now I’m legit going to go watch “The Outsiders” after this is all said and done. Ghost!Paul goes back to Melissa’s house, and she reiterates that she will NOT kill Alive!Paul because she, apparently, cares too much about Ghost!Paul. My heart.

Melissa is now home alone, as her parents are on their Vegas trip for their “CONVENTION”, Marta has gone to visit family, and Della can’t give her a home to sleep in until the next day. So Melissa decides to go find Alive!Paul and tell him to stay away from her. It goes as well as you think it would, as when she confronts him in front of his friends he gets belligerent and tells her he knows where she lives. You all know where this is going. Melissa goes home, a little nervous to be alone with the Fear Street Prowler still on the loose, but knows that Ghost!Paul will be there with her. She tries to sleep in her parents room that night, but then….. someone is crawling through her parents window!! It’s Alive!Paul, and he says ‘see, I told you I knew where you lived’. Realizing he was the prowler the whole time, Melissa thinks of the gun she really doesn’t want to use. She grabs it, but Alive!Paul knocks it away from her. As they wrestle over the gun, Alive!Paul manages to wrestle it away from her, and points it at her saying he’s going to kill her… BUT THEN SOMEHOW, I GUESS THROUGH THE POWER OF LOVE, GHOST!PAUL KNOCKS THE GUN FROM HIS HAND!! And Melissa, devastated to do so but knowing she must, shoots Alive!Paul, killing him instantly. And then Ghost!Paul starts to fade. When she asks why he did that and let her kill him, he says that he’d rather she live, even if it meant he was going to die. He then disappears. As Buddy comes into the room (ugh, he’s the worst), Melissa runs into his arms. When asked who the guy on the floor is, she says, sadly, ‘That’s just some prowler.’

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Stay gold, Ponyboy. (source)

Body Count: 1. Sorry Paul. Nothing gold can stay.

Romance Rating: 5. Buddy is no gentleman, and while I’m a sucker for ghost romances alive!Paul is a bit of a damaged creepazoid. But ghost!Paul does sacrifice himself for Melissa because of his affection for her, which gets automatic romance points.

Bonkers Rating: 8. I MEAN, we got our first actual totally supernatural plot line AND time travel paradoxes in this one. Solidly bonkers!

Fear Street Relevance: 8. With Melissa living on Fear Street and the Fear Street Prowler at large this one definitely felt like a Fear Street relevant book.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“There was something so frightening about that little silver pistol, lying there is the drawer, just waiting to be used.”

… And that’s it. No follow up in the next chapter, Just Melissa going on about her life. That’s no cliffhanger, that’s just a statement. Just a Chekov’s Gun situation.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Melissa makes references to Walkmans, one of the characters is rocking a Hard Rock Cafe tee shirt again (because there was a time that that was STYLISH, guys), and, of course, Melissa looking at microfiche at the public library. Sure, it does happen still from time to time. But many public libraries don’t even have that option anymore.

Best Quote:

“‘Goodnight, everyone,’ Buddy said, and made a hasty exit.

‘Strange kid,’ Mrs. Dryden muttered.

‘What?’ Melissa asked.

‘Beautiful pendant,’ her mother said, lifting it up and turning it over to read the back.”

Mrs. Dryden is the shadiest Mom I’ve seen yet in a “Fear Street” book and I LOVE her.

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(source)

“Haunted” was a pretty solid story that had me guessing over and over again. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it’s one of the better “Fear Street” books we’ve tackled so far!! Plus it made me feel. Up next is “The Halloween Party”.

 

Emily’s Corner: “Miss Buncle’s Book”

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

15725379Book: “Miss Buncle’s Book” by D. E. Stevenson

Publishing Info: First published in 1934, republished in 2008 by Persephone books

Where Did I Get this Book: Barnes and Nobles! My husband gave me a generous book budget for my Christmas present so I promptly stocked up on all of D. E. Stevenson’s re-published novels.

Book Description: Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel … if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.

To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It’s a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle’s world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?

Review: This was my most recent pick for book club. I had seen the Miss Buncle series several times at my local Barnes and Nobles (praise be that a real life book store still exists driving distance from my house!) and couldn’t wait to read it.

I’ll be honest, the first several chapters were slow going. I was a bit worried that I’d picked a sleeper, especially after last month’s emotional selection, “My Name is Asher Lev.” But thankfully it picked up after a few short chapters.

Miss Buncle is yet another adorable old maid (you know my soft spot for them, see my The Blue Castle” review.) She is a spinster in her sleepy village, whose pre-war dividends have reduced her monthly budget to minuscule proportions. Eager to lift herself out of poverty, she attempts to write a book and produces a best-seller on her first try. The first half of her novel are thinly veiled accounts of her neighbor’s comings and goings, and in the second half she re-writes their lives doling out both poetic justice and happy endings with glee.

The result is a book that is quickly picked up by a publisher who is convinced that this is a work of satire, an opinion seized upon by the public which launches Miss Buncle into conveniently anonymous stardom. The trials of keeping her identity a secret from her alternately furious and delighted neighbors are hilarious, and involve a scheming gold-digger, the town’s charming new parson living a year of self-imposed poverty, a surprise elopement, and the kidnapping of twins!

One of my favorite characters is Miss Buncle’s publisher, a man who is delighted with both the book and its’ beguiling author, once he comes around to the idea that the satirical “John Smith” is in fact a mousy spinster who is honest to a fault and in desperate need of money. The following quote says all you need to know about him.

“What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.” 

In essence, this is a book about a book, full of thoughtful commentary on what it means to be a reader and the very thin line that exists between fact and fiction. This is exactly the kind of book you want on a sick day at home, under the covers with tea and chocolate toast.

One last observation. I was struck by the similarity in writing style to L. M. Montgomery, so I was delighted to discover the D. E. Stevenson was in fact a contemporary of Montgomery’s! If you like “Anne of Green Gables,” I can almost guarantee that you’ll adore the Miss Buncle trilogy. I have yet to read “Miss Buncle Married” or “The Two Mrs. Abbotts,” but they are next on my list!

Rating 8: Get yourself through the yawn-inducing first chapters, and you’ll be rewarded with a delightful little tale set in just the kind of English village you’ve always wanted to retire to.

Reader’s Advisory:

Funnily enough, “Miss Buncle’s Book” is included on only one Goodreads list and it is “Potential Book Club Choices.”

Find “Miss Buncle’s Book” at your library using Worldcat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #8 “The Alien”

animorphs_bk08Animorphs #8: “The Alien”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: What would you do if you were the only alien trapped on a strange planet? Probably freak out, right? Well, that’s what Ax feels like doing. But as an Andalite warrior-cadet, he has to be pretty cool about stuff like that. He’s been hanging out with the Animorphs ever since the Dome ship was destroyed by the Yeerks and his brother, Prince Elfangor, was destroyed by Visser Three.

Life on Earth is pretty different for Ax. But there is one thing he, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, and Tobias have in common. Something that one alien, four kids and a hawk know they have to do: stop the Yeerks…

Narrator: Ax

Plot: The Animorphs’ most pressing mission yet: familiarize Ax with human habits! Movie theaters, trips to their school, meeting their families, this book is jam packed with Ax-as-a-human shenanigans. Intermixed with this all, this is the first full book we have with Ax’s first person narration (he had a few chapters of his own in the first Megamorphs book, but that hardly counts), so through all the comedic hijinks are a lot of rather sad personal reflections from a kid alien who’s been suddenly torn from his people and left on a strange world in the midst of a war he wasn’t trained to fight with no way of contacting home.

Or so he thinks…until he decides to play the “game” on Marco’s dad’s computer and accidentally codes the human race forward several centuries, creating a formula that enabling space communication. Unable to resist the sudden possibly to contact his family (and also get some advice on what the heck he should be doing as the sole Andalite representative on Earth, given the quandaries of the strict “no sharing” policy the Andalites have to other races and the challenges that this causes when trying to fight on a team), Ax recruits Tobias for help breaking into the science center where Marco’s dad works and manages to open a communication channel with the Andalite home world. In an agonizingly brief period of time, Ax’s already tough situation is made all the worse by an Andalite commander who reinforces the idea that Ax is to NEVER share information with the humans, regardless of how close he may come to them, and that he must take the fall for giving the Animorphs their morphing powers (this was a huge no-no, and the commander doesn’t want to damage the heroic reputation of Elfangor who needs to remain a war hero in the people’s minds. Little ole Ax, however…) Even worse, after learning of Elfangor’s death, his father tasks Ax with the tiny, small, very simple job of avenging his brother by killing his murderer who just happens to be Visser Three.

Unsurprisingly, Ax leaves these conversations not feeling too hopeful about his prospects as a member of Team Animorph. An already problematic rift of distrust (a few conversations have already come up where Ax’s shifty answers have angered the Animorphs, most particularly Rachel and Marco who remain suspicious of his true loyalties) can only be made worse by this strict reinforcement of Andalite law, and why even bother when Ax himself must now undertake the almost guaranteed suicide mission of killing Visser Three? After some luck with an angry Yeerk Controller who decides to help Ax to spite Visser Three (who has been letting less important Yeerks die due to the Kandrona shortage taking place due to the events of book #7, one of whom happened to be this Yeerk’s good friend), Ax learns that Visser Three sometimes like to go for a nice jog in an Earth meadow to, you know, leave the stress of being Visser behind him. He orders Tobias not to tell anyone of what he’s planning to do and sets off with the plan to morph a rattlesnake and poison Visser Three. The plan almost works, with Ax getting a good bite in, but loosing Visser Three as he flees his Andalite host body to escape in a river, leaving Ax with the poisoned Andalite and a bunch of Hork-Bajir now closing in. Luckily for him, Tobias has disregarded all of his honor nonsense, and the Animorphs show up to save the day.

After all of this, Ax decides that the whole “Andalites First” mantra really may not be the best approach to inter-galactic peace and winning the war against the Yeerks in general (he questions specifically the fact that the Andalites tried this approach, helping but not sharing technology or wisdom, with the Hork-Bajir and now a whole species and world has been lost to the Yeerks). He finally tells the Animorphs the big secret: the Andalites essentially created the Yeerks as conquerors. An Andalite came to their world and felt sorry for their limited capabilities (both in worm form and with the dull-witted Gedd species they Controlled) and gave them technology. And the rest is history: a devastating war the Andalites have been fighting, and losing, ever since. Now fully on board with Team Animorph, Ax risks one last call home to essentially give the Andalite commander the finger saying that while he remains on Earth, he is fully committed to his friends and to this fight, Andalite pride be damned.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax! This book really hits home how tough his whole situation has been. Not only is he marooned on a strange planet, cut off from his people completely, but he’s got to deal with all the political nonsense that his people have come up with, thus alienating (ha!) him even further from his fellow fighters and friends. Ax’s narration was great! So far I’ve liked all the unique voices (though I do find Cassie rather boring and tending towards ridiculous), and the distinction between their voices and viewpoints has really been on of the main traits holding this crazy series together. But Ax takes it to another level! We’re not just talking about a personality change, Applegate needed to write a voice for an alien being who is looking at Earth and humanity through a completely different lens. And I feel like she really pulled it off! Ax’s voice is both more formal than the rest of the characters and more blunt. His descriptions of the other characters are hilarious, always including that they each only have 2 eyes, and they all manage to walk upright without falling often, as if noting these facts individually for each human he sees is important. I also appreciated the deep friendship we see building between him and Tobias. Looking at it from this perspective, it seems natural that these two should become close, given that they are both cut off from their own people, though in very different ways. Plus, they’re meadow roommates. Further, Ax’s struggles between the relationship he is building with his human friends and the duty that he feels to his people is never minimized or made to feel silly. Through his eyes, we see how real these conflicting loyalties would be and how challenging it has been for him up to this point trying to balance both at once. Especially as he sees the distance between himself and the others grow throughout this book. All in all, I really enjoyed Ax’s viewpoint and the breath of fresh air it gives to the series as a whole, bringing something completely new to the series.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has to make some rough choices in this book, being confronted by the fact that Ax is keeping secrets from them and doesn’t consider himself to be truly one of them. This is especially hard considering that Ax has been with them for several books up to this point and, while they are all still getting to know him, there’s also a type of bond that has been created by going into battle together already several times. Also, it is noted that back in the book where Jake was controlled and Ax was impersonating him that his parents thought Jake was mentally ill, and that once he returned, they forced him to go to psychiatrist to make sure everything was all right. And, considering what we see here of Ax’s abilities to mimic human behavior, this is actually probably the best case scenario of the whole thing!

Xena, Warriar Princess: There’s a funny bit where Ax describes all the Animorphs and notes that Rachel is considered to be very beautiful, but that he doesn’t see it until he morphs human. Just another interesting tidbit on the effects of a morph on the Animorphs’ perceptions of what is around them. Rachel and Marco are also the two Animorphs who are still most reserved and suspicious towards Ax. They both react with much stronger feelings to the fact that Ax continues to hide things from them. And while I think this makes a lot of sense for these two characters, we have now had books from both of their perspectives since Ax arrived on the scene and there really wasn’t a lot of this included? I mean, it’s pretty obvious here that they’re both not fully on board, but in their own books, there wasn’t any mention of this. Just kind of a continuity issue more than anything.

A Hawk’s Life: Finally, Tobias has a major role to play! It makes sense as both he and Ax are both living outside of society in the woods, disconnected from their people in one way or another. It is clear that Ax and Tobias have become close friends throughout the books leading up to this and that most of Ax’s regrets have to do with not being able to be a true best friend with Tobias. And, of course, Tobias is the one he trusts to help him with his plots to break into the science center and track down Visser Three. Tobias has a tough balance to strike here, keeping Ax’s secrets but also staying true to his friends above anything. Ultimately, he manages it quite well using Ax’s own logic about loyalty to one’s Prince against him and summoning Jake and the rest to bail Ax out of his suicidal mission to take down Visser Three.

Peace, Love, and Animals: We get another example of Cassie’s deeper insight into people and how truly useful this skill is. Only she is able to unpack the true motivation behind Ax’s unwillingness to share the Andalites’ secrets with them, that it is shame not pride that holds him back. Ax also runs into Cassie in her farm’s fields in horse morph. So we see another example of an Animorph using a morph as an escape route. And Cassie even asks Ax not to tell Jake because she knows that he disapproves of morphing being used in this way.

The Comic Relief: Marco has a few very frank conversations with Ax. He and Rachel both remain suspicious of him, but it seems that Marco has a closer relationship with Ax to take him aside and really lay out the facts to him. It’s a good scene all around, since Ax can even understand and respect Rachel and Marco’s opinion of him based on his own behavior. Also, can I just admit, if Tobias and Rachel weren’t my favorite couple ever, I might actually ship Marco/Rachel? I mean….they’re a pretty awesome team and they seem to end up on the same side of most arguments in these books.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The morphs are always bizarre and disgusting, but there is a new level of weirdness listening to Ax describe the morphing process to become human in the same way that the others describe becoming random animals. Also, becoming the rattlesnake wasn’t a lovely picture.

Couples Watch!: Ax notes that Cassie has a picture of Jake in her locker. Awww. Also, when Cassie tries to say that she and Jake are “just friends” like all the rest of them, Ax is quite confused because he says he’s seen them holding hands. And she’s all “…you weren’t supposed to see that…” Oh, young love, where hand holding must be hidden!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three doesn’t have much time here, though he is discussed a lot and the true terror/horror of a Yeerk-infested-Andalite  really hits home in this book, coming from Ax’s perspective. There is also an interesting aspect of Yeerk infestation that is raised here. We know that in morph, the Animorphs must always struggle to balance their own minds as well as that of the animal they’ve become. Here, we see Visser Three following an urge (to run through the grass and graze) that comes purely from his Andalite host, not the  Yeerk. So, what is this balance like? Is it a similar struggle to wall out the instincts of the host body? I don’t remember this being addressed in Jake’s book when he was infested. But that was also a much shorter period of time? So maybe over the years this balance being met becomes more important?

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Man, the whole bit when the Andalite is laying there in the field, finally free from the Yeerk, but knowing he will be recaptured any moment. He begs for death and wishes only to let his family know that if he is taken again, he will always keep fighting. It’s tragic in every way, seeing such a proud being so broken down. I mean, it’s hard to imagine surviving as a Controller in any circumstance, but to be a host for Visser Three who’s just so casually evil all the time? And to know that your body and abilities are what’s enabling him to rise so high and commit such terrible deeds? Awful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The main action plan was Ax’s attempt to kill Visser Three, and the rattlesnake, that was actually some clever thinking. The worst plan, however, was the idea of taking Ax to the movie theater in the first little caper adventure of the book. I mean, sure, introducing Ax to human culture is good. But you know the guy has got a problem with self-control with food, and even regular humans struggle to not inhale that buttery popcorn! Not to mention, you’re taking him to a closed room, surrounded by tons of people, with only a few exits, where everyone is supposed to sit quietly for hours. It’s just a recipe for disaster for a guy whose two main loves in his human morph are eating everything and talking loudly and weirdly. Any shock on the Animorphs’ part for his behavior is completely unjustified. You brought this embarrassment on yourselves, guys.

Favorite Quote:

Ax’s thoughts on the movie-going plan. Just a perfect example of the type of deadpan delivery that made Ax’s narration so fun.

Of course, I would have to attend the movie in a morph. I couldn’t go around in public in my own Andalite form. Humans would have been terrified. And the Controllers – those humans who are infested by the Yeerk parasites – would have tried to kill me.

Which would have ruined the entire movie experience.

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

I’d almost put this down as a win for the Yeerks due to the massive lost opportunity to take out Visser Three. But instead I’ll just leave the scorecard unchanged.

Rating:

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

Kate’s Review: “Girls on Fire”

26074200Book: “Girls on Fire” by Robin Wasserman

Publishing Info: Harper, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town’s bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it’s a secret that will change everything…

Review: Who here has seen or heard of the movie “Heavenly Creatures”? It’s kind of a noteworthy gem for a number of reasons. The first is that it was one of the break out roles that Kate Winslet had before “Titanic”. It was also one of the movies Peter Jackson made before he took on the “Lord of the Rings” movies. But the third reason is the kicker: it’s also a true story, in which two girls in New Zealand, bolstered forth by their obsessive friendship, kill one of their moms because she didn’t approve of their closeness. And then one of them grew up to be Anne Perry the crime author. I think that “Heavenly Creatures” kind of sets a standard for the ‘dangerous obsessive female friendship’ trope, even if it was a real life occurrence. When I read about “Girls on Fire” I was pretty intrigued. I was hoping that I would find a new rumination on a story that’s been told many times over, from “Heavenly Creatures” to last year’s smash hit “The Girls”. But sadly I found more of the same old, same old.

I think that it’s definitely important to note that “Girls on Fire” does tackle a lot of important questions about what it means to be a teenage girl in American society, and what expectations are thrust upon this group in terms of how to behave and interact with others. Both Lacey and Hannah (or “Dex” as Lacey renames her early in their friendship) are perceived in certain ways by not only their peers and their community, they are perceived in certain ways by their families, the people who are supposed to know them best. This, too, can be said for the bane of their existence, Nikki Drummond, the most popular girl in school who mistreats Hannah and anyone she sees as beneath her. Nikki has facades that she puts on for different people, and while Hannah thinks she knows one side, Lacey knows another one. The perspectives in this book are mainly those of Hannah and Lacey, alternating in sections called ‘Us’. But every once in awhile we’ll get an outside perspective from one of those close to them, under the sections called ‘Them’. I loved how this was set up, as it really reinforced the ‘us vs the world’ mentality that these two obsessed friends shared. I also liked how the structure served to explain just what happened with the popular boy who committed suicide, as it’s pretty clear from the get go that it’s not as cut and dry as it all seems.

But now we get to the crux of the issue, and that is this isn’t a book that I enjoyed much beyond that. “Girls on Fire” didn’t really do anything new in terms of characterization and plotting. Both Hannah and Lacey were pretty two dimensional, even with their perspectives being laid out in the open. Lacey is the bad girl who has the terrible upbringing and just wants to be loved and turns to drugs, alcohol, and Kurt Cobain (as well as dabbling in the most milquetoast of stereotypical Satanism). Hannah is the quiet one who is so mousy that everyone is shocked when she starts to turn darker, and has darker deeper demons than anyone could have imagined. These are character tropes that we’ve seen before, and neither of them went beyond these tried and true depictions. Even the parents were stereotypes of what we imagine parents with kids like these to be. Hannah’s Mom is banal and unassuming and resents that her daughter is branching out into a more interesting realm. Her father is a former wild child who misses his days of being free, and therefore longs for Lacey both sexually and philosophically. And Lacey’s mother is an alcoholic who has married an abusive man. The only character who intrigued me and surpassed my expectations was Nikki, and even then she still ultimately lived up to our basal expectations of what a mean girl is and why a mean girl might be mean. It’s a real shame, because there was some serious potential in all of these girls to examine how our perceptions of them might be undue. But then they really didn’t have much more to say beyond what their main stereotypes were. And the central mystery isn’t really that much of a mystery, in all honesty. You can guess it pretty early on in the unspooling of that particular thread.

I had higher hopes for “Girls on Fire” than the book was able to deliver. If you are interested in a story examining the perils of dangerous girl friendships, just get your hands on “Heavenly Creatures”.

Rating 5: Though the themes are interesting and the perspectives creatively structured, this book wasn’t reinventing the wheel in any way, and it didn’t really bring a new take to a story we’ve heard before.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girls on Fire” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books About Female Friendship”, and “Best Quietly Creepy Novels”.

Find “Girls on Fire” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Long May She Reign”

30320053Book: “Long May She Reign” by Rhiannon Thomas

Publication Info: HarperTeen, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councilors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.

Review:  Everything about this book description sounded like something that would be right up my alley. And other than a bit of confusion about the genre (fantasy?), I was not disappointed!

Freya is 20-something in line to the throne, but after a mass poisoning, somehow queenship still manages to fall on her shoulders. Now, not only does she, a natural introvert who only wants to work on her science experiments, have to figure out how to rule a country, but she needs to unravel the mystery behind the poisoning before she’s next. No killer would set out to put her on the throne, after all!

This was such a simple story, and I loved it for this very reason! Within the framework of a political drama, Freya herself is allowed to shine as the unique heroine she is. Often we’re presented with this archetypal character arc: shy wallflower through plot devices learns she’s super special and beautiful and ends the book as the bad-ass she was truly meant to be, thus shedding all of her original shyness. I’ve never liked or bought this story arc for a character. As an introvert myself, that’s just not how it works, and I’m kind of offended whenever having a quieter disposition is presented as something that must be “overcome” to become the bad-ass warrior in the end. And it has been well-documented on this blog that I love me some bad-ass women characters! But that doesn’t mean that every character should become this!

Freya’s journey is not to become a better person by the end, but to truly  appreciate that the changes she brings to the country as a different ruler with different strengths, manners, and priorities is ultimately  just what it might need. Mental health is a subject that is brought up a few times in this book, both for Freya who suffers from anxiety attacks and for another noble lady whom Freya quickly befriends who suffers from some form of depression. While neither of these subjects were tackled in any depth, neither character was demonized for the way that they chose to deal with their own mental health and the fact that they each needed to make its management a priority in their own way. For Freya, this meant the comfort of straightforward and logical scientific research.

Given this connection to Freya’s anxiety,  I appreciated that her research wasn’t simply set up in the beginning as “oh, here’s a special thing about her to make her stand apart from all the other fantasy YA heroines but doesn’t actually play any part in the story” but as an aspect of Freya’s character that is continually reinforced throughout the story. Not only does she use her knowledge and abilities to solve the mystery, but we see how she will continue to make room for this important aspect of herself as a ruler going forward. Science is her retreat and her method for calming her mind, and I loved that this was so fully embraced. Further, the characters who are important to her embrace this as well. Not only appreciating that Freya is always going to make scientific research a priority in her life and one that they will have to live aside, but actually joining her and learning from her.

These side characters were also key to my enjoyment of the novel. The cast is a manageable size, both small enough that I felt like I was able to get to know many of them well, but also large enough to hold up the mystery itself with several viable suspects. Many of them were also delightfully written in shades of grey. There are few obviously “good” characters, like Freya’s best friend from the beginning (Yay for female friendships! There were several in this book, and I loved that ultimately these relationships were given more attention than the romantic story line, which is fairly minimal, all told) and, obviously, her cat whom she adores (she risks her life to save the cat at one point which I completely understand!) But several characters on her much-reduced council are presented with their own compelling reasons for either wanting to support her rule or work quietly against it. Freya’s own father is set up as a bit of a grey character. He clearly loves his daughter, but his ambition is what lead to his rise in court from a lowly merchant, and Freya questions where this ambition could ultimately lead. With all of this, I was truly surprised by who the culprit ultimately turned out to be.

I typically try to avoid reading many other reviews for books before I write my own, but with this one I did want to see what other reviewers were doing when slotting this book in a genre. It is presented as a fantasy novel, but for the life of me I can’t really understand why. Sure, it’s set in an imaginary kingdom…but that’s it. There is no magic that is referenced, no creatures that don’t exist in our world, nothing really. And I feel like this was a bit of a failing in its marketing. This book is more a political/historical YA novel, and by setting it up as a YA fantasy (a genre that is booming beyond belief right now), I feel like a lot of readers came out of it disappointed. As I love these genres as well, I wasn’t perturbed by it. But both the description and cover make it seem like this is somehow a fantasy novel, and for readers who are mostly there for the magic and romance that is usually found in YA fantasy…you’re kind of setting the book up to fail by not targeting the correct audience. Sure, publishers want the extra bang for their buck that comes from jumping on a popular genre bandwagon, but is it worth the backlash when readers discover the truth? I never like this type of marketing tomfoolery, as I feel like this is a strong novel for what it is and that’s now being undercut due to these silly tactics.

But if you are a reader who enjoys YA political/historical novels that focus in on science rather than magic, definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: A great, character-focused political romp!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Long May She Reign” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “YA Royalty” and “Unconventional Princesses (and Princes).”

Find “Long May She Reign” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”

23164970Book: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, May 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes, so when a fire destroys everything she owns, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life – and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham City’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl…and discovers new threats preying on her peers! As the new hero of Burnside, Batgirl gets started by facing twin sister assassins on motorcycles!

Review: As the world of comics tries to keep up with the changing times and tries to keep rebooting itself, it can, admittedly, get a little confusing. I think that a really good example of this is that of DC’s Batgirl. When DC launched their “New 52” reboot series, giving many of their characters brand new origin stories, one of the new iterations was Batgirl. Gail Simone took the helm, and while there was criticism about erasing Batgirl’s disability (she’s no longer wheelchair bound, and therefore no longer Oracle), it’s pretty agreed that she did justice to Barbara Gordon. Her time with Batgirl ended, showing Barbara’s future years and years down the line. It was pretty dark stuff (no spoilers here though). But then….. Batgirl was rebooted again, even if DC claims that it wasn’t really a reboot. Now the “Batgirl” title is DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Ms. Marvel”: a bit more aimed towards teen girls, with a quirky and flawed, but endearing protagonist who has very real life problems along with the Superhero ones. I mean, just look at the cover of this book: Batgirl is taking a selfie in a hipster club bathroom.

Admittedly, when I first saw this I was like

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BUT, I decided to give it a chance because I love Barbara Gordon, and I do recognize that comics appeal to a wide array of audiences now. And I’m glad that I did decide to give it a try, because while I find “Ms. Marvel” fine and important but a but a tad precious, I think that this new Batgirl is just the right balance of aware and action-y.

Barbara has been updated to fit the modern sensibilities of a brainy girl who likes to code and do STEM things. While I’m still a bit bitter that she hasn’t quite taken on the librarian mantle (though I think she eventually does go to get her MLIS!), I love seeing her tackle computer science and code writing, and I LOVE seeing it treated as just something that she does because why wouldn’t she? Not only is Barbara a badass lady coder, so is her roommate Frankie. I really liked the introduction of Frankie (though I wish that Alysia Yeoh could have been another roommate, because I love her to death), as she added a new voice of reason along with adding some much needed diversity to the DC Universe. In fact, a lot of the new faces in “Batgirl” add quite a bit of diversity, not unlike that which you WOULD see in Brooklyn these says (as Burnside is the Brooklyn to Gotham’s Manhattan). So not only do we have an empowered and positive role model of a young woman who is adept at science, she surrounds herself with people from all different backgrounds and experiences. Every character feels real and grounded and not just thrown in for the sake of having a token Muslim, or trans woman, or African American, or etcetera.

Even the villains and the danger scenarios feel like they fit a modern aesthetic without seeming overwrought. One of the first people Batgirl goes up against is an Internet wizard who has been giving out his digital blackmail services to people, willing to ruin lives for a price and a profit. Given how revenge porn is certainly a problem that society hasn’t quite figured out how to wrap it’s head around in many ways, this felt like a pretty relevant threat. Sure, Babs may not be fighting crazed supervillains like the Joker, but villains based in real life awfulness are a-okay with me. And it’s done in such a way that it never feels like it’s being spoon fed to the reader. You don’t need a known and super big bad guy like Joker or Penguin to be behind these realistic maladies, because that just doesn’t feel genuine. Along with the villains, one of the biggest obstacles Barbara has to face is the trauma she is still feeling from when Joker attacked her. You see flashbacks of when she was in recovery, and how dark and damaged her mind went, focused on the past and revenge instead of healing and the future. While I am a staunch defender of the original story of her becoming wheelchair bound, as Oracle became arguably the MOST powerful member within the Bat Family and her wheelchair provided representation to a group that is overlooked, I think that this series has done a good job of addressing the long term mental affects of it all. It’s a shame that they’ve erased that side of Barbara, but now they are tackling the story of a woman who is living with PTSD. I won’t say tit for tat, but I will say that it’s not nothing.

And there are familiar faces as well! My girl Dinah Lance is involved in this first arc, there to provide a needed level of snark, but also to remind Batgirl of her duties and not to let things get out of her control. I am pretty sure this was the predecessor to the “Black Canary” comic that I liked so much (note to self…. get your hands on the next one), and her angst and rough edges are on display in their full glory. She is also there to make sure that Babs, while the selfie and social media culture is fine and part of our lives now, doesn’t lose her endgame all because she loves the likes and tweets. The old school mentality of comics and superheroes in the context of Batgirl still has relevancy, and her reboot is blending well with her origins.

And the art is really fun in this one. It’s very colorful, not as dark and dour as the Gail Simone story that preceded it.

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I am very pleased with the new life that Batgirl has been given with “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”. Barbara has been given a new lease on life and I am very happy with where she’s going with it!

Rating 8: A fun reboot of the Batgirl series, with a strong and varied cast of characters and a good hold on how to write Barbara Gordon for today’s world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of DC”, and “Ladies in Capes”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” at your library using WorldCat!

Literary Loves: Characters Who Woo Us

We know that we can’t possibly be the only book worms who have fallen for literary characters. So in celebration of all things fantastical and romantic (and perhaps setting up our husbands to fall short), we would like to share the characters who make our hearts thud a little bit faster as we turn the pages of their stories. 

Serena’s Picks

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Book: “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” Northanger Abbey,” Sense and Sensibility,” Persuasion,” and “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen

Literary Crush: Well, let’s see, we have Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, Mr. Tilney, Colonel Brandon/Edward Ferrars, Captain Wentworth, and Edmund Bertram

I cheated! Right off the bat! Right out of the gate! But really, there was no other choice because either 1.) the list would be extra long including all seven and made up entirely of Jane Austen characters for my portion or 2.) there would be no post because I could never narrow it down to only 3 and my part would STILL be made up entirely of Jane Austen characters. I will say that Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly are probably my favorite two of the bunch, but when we start to get into thirds and fourths…nope! Can’t do it! Many, many articles have been written about the appeal of Jane Austen’s heroes, so I won’t bore you with a re-cap here. They’re just the best. The end.

11289310Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier

Literary Crush: Hugh ‘Red’ of Harrowfield

Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite authors and “Daughter of the Forest” is my favorite of her books. So it stands to reason that out of the many fantastic heroes she has written (I really resisted not just including them all again, guys! I’m making progress!), Red would be my favorite leading man. He’s pretty much what every woman wishes for. Strong and competent, but endlessly patient and understanding. Sorcha can’t speak for the majority of their time together in this book, and even though he knows she can answer some of his most heart-wrenching questions about his lost brother, he stands by her, giving her the time and space she needs to heal and grow to trust him. He stands up for her against his family and the questions and fear of her that arise from her being a strange outsider. Their love grows slowly throughout the book until in the end she, too, makes her own sacrifice for him. Their love story is beautiful, and Red is a great hero character in his more quiet, steady way.

119324283870Book: “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman

Literary Crush: Will Parry

This one feels a bit strange typing it out as an adult woman since this is technically a child character, but I read these books when I was the main characters’ ages, and it would be wrong to deny the  massive crush I had (have?) on Will. Having been already introduced to the unstoppable Lyra in “The Golden Compass,” Will was already fighting an uphill battle being introduced as a main character in book two. But not only did he stand his own, by the end he may have been my favorite of the two. It was also surprising seeing a meaningful and touching romance develop in a natural way in a book that is about teenagers as young as these two. But especially in “The Amber Spyglass,” we see Will’s willingness to do anything to save Lyra and then to follow her anywhere, even into the Underworld. He has the same quiet, steady strength as Red, so I guess that must be kind of my thing?

Kate’s Picks

77392Book: The “Anne of Green Gables” Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Literary Crush: Gilbert Blythe

One of my favorite literary heroines is the impulsive, imaginative, and witty Anne Shirley. I grew up idolizing her (thanks to my Dad’s love for the books about her), and her love interest Gilbert Blythe was hands down the first book character I was totally in love with. Gilbert starts out as a rival, who pisses Anne off when trying to get her attention by calling her ‘Carrots’. But as the series progresses, Anne and Gilbert go from enemies, to friends, to true loves. He’s funny and smart, and sure, a little careless with how he shows his affection for her, but that’s okay. He worships the ground that Anne walks on, but also doesn’t let her get away with some of her more irrational (or spiteful) moments. And boy did it take Anne long enough to figure out that he was the one for her! But the moment that she did (after he nearly died from typhoid fever, OH MY GOODNESS THE FEELINGS), they were just the best couple, and he was everything that she (and I) ever wanted.

4722840Book: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Literary Crush: Edward Rochester

Snarky? Check. Brooding with a tragic past? Check. Willing to have his true love go toe to toe with him and respectful of her because of it? CHECK MATE. Yeah, it’s probably not great that Edward Rochester lied about keeping his mentally deranged wife locked in an attic, but given how terrible asylums were at the time I’m sort of willing to cut him a little bit of slack. As the love interest in “Jane Eyre”, Rochester falls in love with Jane, the Governess to his ward. Jane is an independent and capable woman and is not willing to let him give her any grief, nor is she willing to let him manipulate her. Rochester does eventually learn from his mistakes, and when he and Jane are reunited they continue to be on even footing, relationship wise. As much as the ‘dark and brooding soul’ trope can get old, Rochester has enough snark and sarcasm to keep it from becoming too much. And for the time period that the book was written, him being on such even footing with Jane in their relationship and romance is quite refreshing!

472331Book: “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Ill.)

Literary Crush: Dan Dreiberg/ Nite Owl II

As someone who loves superheroes and has a thing for a good number of them (Helloooooo Wade Wilson), Dan Dreiberg from “Watchmen” is the one that holds the biggest key to my heart. Dan is painfully geeky and kind of socially awkward, but he’s very smart, way adorable, and fiercely loyal when it comes to his teammates and friends. He is also a very capable crime fighter, who plays to his strengths of tech knowledge and gadgetry by creating a number of doo dads and inventions that aid him in his endeavors. And he is eternally patient when it comes to his unstable partner, Rorschach. Dan does have his issues, of course, as he is a bit neurotic, and is sometimes plagued by self doubt (such as when being a superhero is strictly outlawed by the Nixon Government). But at his heart he’s really just a good guy who puts on the cape and cowl because he wants to make the world a better place. Also, he loves bird watching and has a deep love for owls. He’s just an adorkable and good guy, so what’s not to love?

What about you? Do you have any literary crushes that make your heart sing? Let us know in the comments!!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Valiant”

30375703Book: “The Valiant” by Lesley Livingston

Publishing Info: Razorbill, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

Review: If you read the above description and thought to yourself “that sounds a lot like the movie ‘Gladiator’ but with a teenage girl instead of Russel Crowe,” well….you wouldn’t be wrong. Your mileage for whether or not that is a good or bad thing will depend on your opinion of that movie. I thought it was quite enjoyable, but I love overly dramatic action movies myself. So with that in mind, and firmly stifling any inner thoughts about historical accuracy, I was excited when this book arrived on the hold shelf at my library last week and jumped right in. And…it was kind of what I expected, there were things I enjoyed, but ultimately I wasn’t blown over by the book as a whole.

First to the pros! This book is non stop action, almost from the very first page where we meet Fallon attempting to execute a dangerous, yet flashy, spear throw from a precarious balance point on a racing chariot. The scene is set. Fallon is a no-holds-barred warrior princess, and I am happy to report that she sticks to these guns throughout the book. We are not simply told that she is an excellent fighter, we see it proven to us time and again.

With break neck speed, the novel rushes through our introductions to Fallon, her father, who is still devastated by the loss of his eldest daughter, Sorcha (who was a brilliant fighter in her own right and essentially raised Fallon and taught her everything she knows), and setting the stage that was Fallon’s life so far. And with equal swiftness, that rug is swept out from Fallon’s, and our, feet, and she’s off to Rome, a captured slave destined for the gladiatorial arenas. Lots of training, fighting, and political drama thus ensues.

And for the most part, I very much enjoyed this fast paced style. The book never sets out to present an in-depth character study of Fallon or historical analysis of her homeland (Britain) and its relationship with the conquering Rome. The book is meant to be full of fight scenes, and full of fight scenes it is. Character development does fall to the wayside with this approach, though Fallon remains true to her original characterization throughout, which was a relief.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Elka, a fellow slave-turned-gladiatrix (yes, that is what the female gladiators are called and I cringed every time it came up). Elka is badassery defined. And she also turns into a true and steady friend for Fallon. About halfway through the book, she sadly begins to fade into the background, but whenever she reappeared, I was reminded of how much color she added to the story. Fallon herself was a steady character, but her steadiness also read as a bit one-note at times. Elka’s more electric presence helped reinforce Fallon herself.

Most of my qualms came in the form of the romance. *sigh* All too often that is the case for me, and I was sorry to see it happen here as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the romance. But it is never built up. Cai, a Roman soldier, is given no unique traits and seems to, out of nowhere, fall in love with Fallon. And she with him. The amount of time they know each other is minuscule. The natural biases they would have against each other would seemingly be insurmountable, both based on the strife between their countries and the fact that he is a soldier who has probably been trained from birth to look down on slaves and she is a warrior whose father’s spirit was broken by Roman soldiers. It just seems like it should have been more difficult, or at least taken longer and be given more attention for a true-feeling relationship to develop. I simply didn’t care about Cai or this relationship. Elka’s and Fallon’s relationship is much better developed. And frankly, I would have been more than happy to have a book that is already largely focused on the sisterly bonds that can be formed between women and the power this can give them to have based its primary relationships on these only with no need to add romance into the mix at all.

There were also a few “surprises” that weren’t surprises at all if you are familiar with the genre. I was able to quite easily predict the most major twist, and also understand the character motivations that were later revealed, thus making Fallon’s shock and struggle to understand these same points a bit tiresome to plow through.

So, while I did enjoy the action, and Fallon was a decent lead character (if made better by supporting characters like Elka), the story was a bit too predictable and the romance way too tepid for me to completely fall in love with this book. I’ll mark the second one as a “to read” but I don’t feel any anxiety in the wait for its release. However, if you want a strong YA female warrior book and don’t mind a few stale aspects, this might be worth checking out!

Rating 6: Strong action and a likeable heroine weren’t enough to make this book completely engrossing, but it accomplishes its main goal and was a quick read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Valiant” is a newly released book so isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it has themes fitting of “Best Historical Fiction About Ancient Rome” and “Young Adult Female Fighters.”

Find “The Valiant” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Best We Could Do”

29936927Book: “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui

Publishing Info: Abrams Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.
 
At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.
 
In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Review: Stories of refugees and immigration are incredibly relevant these days. Between certain world leaders trying to impose travel bans, to the threats of building a wall all along a border, to the devastating refugee crisis being seen due to instability in Syria, the very thought of people finding a safe place to live, while leaving their home behind, has become incredibly politicized. When I first heard about “The Best We Could Do”, I knew that I needed to immediately get it on my request list so that I could read it as soon as it was available to me. It’s heartening to see that graphic novels are becoming more and more used to tell personal stories, and a story as personal as this one was only bolstered by the imagery that we found on the page. Oh boy was this a wonderful book.

And a very sad book as well. Thi Bui was born in Vietnam, just around the time that the Vietnam War was starting to wind down. Her family history is intwined within the stark differences in the Vietnamese society up to and during the war, as her mother was from the bourgeois class and her father was decidedly less well off. But this story isn’t just about a family trying to escape a violent and unsafe situation; it is also about a family that is forever affected by society around it, and a family trying to fit in in a new place that is completely new and different to them. By giving the context of her mother’s background, her father’s background, and the culture and society of Vietnam during their childhoods and her childhood as well, we get a story that is tragic, hopeful, devastating, and important all at once. She also does a very good job of showing how Western Imperialism and Colonialism, of course, had a large effect on how Vietnam dealt with a cultural conflict of the North versus the South. I really appreciated that she pointed out that for people in America during the war (those fighting it aside), it was more of a concept and something to support or speak out against. But for the Vietnamese, it was the life they were living every day, and that somehow kind of got lost in the narrative.

I also really liked the stories of her family, as imperfect and in some ways dysfunctional as it was. She has a very conflicted opinion of both her parents. Her father wasn’t a very good parent to her, and he wasn’t a very good husband to her mother either. But seeing his childhood that was filled with turmoil, poverty, instability, and broken family ties, we can completely understand why he turned into the man he became. We also see that her mother was in many ways a remarkable person who had ambitions and dreams, but then found herself in a marriage she wasn’t completely invested in, and with a family that, as cherished as they were, put an end to her ambitions, ambitions that absolutely could have been backed up by talent and know how. Bui contrasts her own journey into motherhood against the story of her own mother, and it is incredibly effective and bittersweet.

I think that what I found most effective about this story is that it has a powerful message, but it is wrapped in a family memoir. I was expecting far more about the fall of South Vietnam, and the journey out under cloak of darkness. But while that certainly does play a part, it’s really a story about a family, and how having to move from one life to another, whole new life in a whole new place caused damage that never quite repaired. Trauma, war, and displacement isn’t something that is forgotten just because you move to a new place and start a new life, and sometimes adapting to that new life can be a challenge in and of itself.

The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous. It is fairly simple at first glance, but images pop out and really take the reader’s gaze into them. I loved the colors and I loved how detailed it was, even though it looks like it’s fairly straight forward.

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I really cannot recommend “The Best We Could Do” enough. In a time where I think empathy and understanding are sorely needed when it comes to trying to understand the refugee experience, Thi Bui’s memoir will engage readers and show them how much is lost and how much is sacrificed just to stay alive. This is an incredibly important book.

Rating 9: A personal and powerful memoir with gorgeous illustrations, “The Best We Could Do” is an important book with a relevant message to the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis we are seeing today.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Best We Could Do” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Required Reading: Graphic Novels”, and “Vietnamese-American Novels and Memoirs”.

Find “The Best We Could Do” at your library using WorldCat!