Kate’s Review: “Kiss Number 8”

22612920Book: “Kiss Number 8” by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second Books, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Amanda can’t figure out what’s so exciting about kissing. It’s just a lot of teeth clanking, germ swapping, closing of eyes so you can’t see that godzilla-sized zit just inches from your own hormonal monstrosity. All of her seven kisses had been horrible in different ways, but nothing compared to the awfulness that followed Kiss Number Eight. An exploration of sexuality, family, and faith, Kiss Number Eight is a coming-of-age tale filled with humor and hope.

Review: It may seem like I’m doing a LOT of graphic novels lately, but in my defense I neglected this format a lot this summer. This occurred to me when I was requesting books for a teen graphic novel display, and one of the books I stumbled upon was “Kiss Number 8” by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. After requesting it for work, I requested it for myself. I hadn’t looked too much into it when I requested it; I knew that it had LGBTQIA+ themes, and I knew that it was about a teen girl figuring out her sexuality. But what I didn’t expect was how emotional “Kiss Number 8” was going to be, and how hard it would be to read at times because of the themes.

And to note, I will have to address some vague spoilers in this review to fully discuss my opinions. I’ll do my best to keep it general.

“Kiss Number 8” takes place in 2004, a time that doesn’t seem to distant to me but is actually fifteen years ago. As I was reading this book, it served as a reminder of how many things have changed in terms of societies views on sexuality, and yet how far we still have to go. Amanda is written as a pretty typical teenage girl of this time and place, and up until this point she can count on a number of things: she has a fantastic relationship with her father, she has a tempestuous relationship with her mother, and her best friends Cat and Laura are always going to be there for her, even if they don’t particularly like each other. You get a great glimpse into Amanda’s life through snippets of scenes, and by the time the main plots start to kick in you already know who she is and what her reality is. Venable does a good job of showing rather than telling when it comes to how Amanda feels about those in her life, especially her growing infatuation with Cat, whose care free and somewhat selfish personality is apparent to everyone BUT Amanda. I also liked the slow unraveling and reveal of the other main plot line: a mysterious phone call to her father, and a mysterious letter that he tries to hide from her. Venable does a really good job of making the reader think it’s going to be one thing, but then piece by piece shows that it’s something completely different, something that connects to Amanda’s present emotional situation with Cat and goes even further back into how people have to hide their identities from others.

I also thought that Venable did a good job of portraying realistic, and at times very flawed, characters. As I mentioned earlier, Amanda is a pretty normal teenage girl, but along with that comes a cruel streak towards those who care about her, especially her mother and Laura. She makes bad decisions in moments of great emotion, and it ends up hurting people, who in turn react poorly and hurt her back. But you never get the sense that she is a bad person when she does these things, rather that she is in a great deal of pain and dealing with confusion about herself and a life she thought she had all sorted out. The fallout from these choices always felt real, and sometimes that meant that it was painful to read. But again, Amanda doesn’t ever come off as a bad person, just a person who is still learning. In fact, most of the characters are given a certain amount of grace when they screw up, and aren’t painted as being one dimensional or cardboard cut outs of tropes…. Even when they don’t necessarily deserve it. Because to me, with how some of the characters did end up reacting to Amanda’s identity, and the identities of others within the story, I didn’t want them to be given a pass, realistic or not. Not when they caused to much pain.

And that is a good segue into difficult moments that I had with “Kiss Number 8”, specifically with how a number of the characters were when it comes to LGBT issues. There is a LOT of homophobia and transphobia in this book, and while it’s all written within the context of the story, and doesn’t feel like it’s excused or glossed over, it could still be triggering for readers who are in those communities. While Amanda was a lived experience of learning about herself and her sexuality, I feel like the ball was dropped a bit more with the trans characters in the narrative. They were more used as lessons for Amanda to learn, and their voices and experiences were put in the context of a cis girl realizing that they too are human beings who deserve respect and dignity. That isn’t to say that I thought Venable was malicious in her portrayal, but it does show that we still have a ways to go when it comes to how trans characters are portrayed within the stories we read. That said, I am a cis straight woman, so if my assessment is off kilter to anyone please do let me know. I, too, am still learning.

I have nothing but good things to say about Crenshaw’s artwork. The characters are cartoony and fun, and their designs remind me of other popular teen graphic works like “Drama” and “This One Summer”, but the style is still unique and feels new and fresh. And even with the more ‘cartoony’ drawings, the emotional weight of the various situations still came through loud and clear.

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(source)

Uncomfortable and clunky aspects aside, I enjoyed “Kiss Number 8”. It’s an honest and emotional book that kept me reading, and reminded me that there is still so much progress to be made, even if we’ve come so far.

Rating 8: A bittersweet and emotional story about finding one’s identity, “Kiss Number 8” has complex characters and relevant themes. We’ve come so far with stories like this, but we still have a ways to go.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kiss Number 8” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lesbian Teen Fiction”, and “Sapphic Graphic”.

Find “Kiss Number 8” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Tidelands”

43260625Book: “Tidelands” by Philippa Gregory

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher

Book Description: England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast. 

Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbours. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

Review: Philippa Gregory was probably one of the authors I associate most strongly with my first experiences reading historical fiction as a teenager. With a few exceptions, up to that point I read fantasy/sci-fi and really that was it. But I whizzed through “The Other Boleyn Girl” and was hooked on a new genre from there on out. I read a good number of Gregory’s works over the years, and enjoyed many them. However, after a bit, I was ready to move on from her tried and true political, royal scheming stories that were starting to feel a bit stale to me. So I was excited when I heard about “Tidelands” and saw that we would be getting something outside of that wheelhouse with a story about a poor widow who comes under suspicion as a witch.

Alinor is a woman between worlds. Her husband is missing, so she is not a widow. So she’s still a wife but one without a provider, left to live independently with all of the challenges that come with it, but none of the securities that come with being a widow (mostly having to do with a woman’s honor and all of that fun stuff). But her and her children’s lives change when she runs across a priest attempting to find safety out on the ever-changing and dangerous tidelands. New opportunities are now opening before her, but with these changes come new dangers, and the watchful and suspicious eyes of neighbors are always watching.

It was nice to return to a historical fiction novel that wasn’t also a mystery. Looking back over what I’ve read the last year or so, almost all of my historical reading has been a combination of the two genres. Gregory has always impressed with her detailed descriptions of life in the time period in which her stories take place and the historical accuracy of the political and cultural experiences of those living then. This book in particular delved into the brewing tensions between the new church and the old, the new king and the old. I didn’t know a whole lot about the parties and beliefs at play here, but I enjoyed learning more about it throughout this novel. I especially enjoyed the way that Gregory approached it through Alinor’s eyes, as a common woman who has lived an isolated life away from much of the drama that is gripping the nation.

But with these details also comes a fairly slowly moving plot. The story takes a long time to get going and, thinking back on it, I’m not sure it ever even did, other than a very brief section near the end. Much of it revolves around Alinor’s romantic plot line, and even that moved at a fairly glacial speed. Once I accepted that that was what the story would be, I was better able to settle in, being now less focused on desperately trying to locate a plot. But even then, the story felt out of balance. It’s one thing to not have a strong plot in favor of focusing on characters and their relationships, but I was also never strongly attached to any of those either.

I also had hoped for a bit more from the fantastical elements teased in the description. I wasn’t expecting a fantasy, of course, but I had hoped for more on the witch front. Again, it took a long time to get there, and then it felt pretty rushed. The ending itself seemed to come out of nowhere and just kind of…end. It wrapped up in only a few pages, leaving several subplots unexplained and with an abrupt shift in characters’ lives, with little build up or exploration provided. This is the first in a series, so there’s room to expand on these things from here. But even with a series, each book should feel self-contained and have a natural beginning, middle, and end. Here, the end felt slapped on because the book needed to end, nothing more.

Overall, this was a bit of a lackluster read for me. While I liked many of Gregory’s early books, this one reminded me why I had stopped keeping up with her works. There is nothing technically wrong with it, but the story never grabbed me, the characters were not especially likable, and I felt like the historical details, while accurate and reflective of Gregory’s strong research, overwhelmed what little story there was left. Fans of her later work may very well enjoy this book, but it wasn’t really for me, sadly.

Rating 6: A bit too slow, a bit too detailed, and a bit off the mark at the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tidelands” is a new book so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Witch Hunts in Historical Fiction.”

Find “Tidelands” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Pretty Dead Girls”

32972117Book: “Pretty Dead Girls” by Monica Murphy

Publishing Info: Entangled: Teen, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she’s next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she’s never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There’s something he isn’t telling her. But there’s something she’s not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Review: I strive to go through my Kindle every once in awhile and see what books I’ve purchased that I haven’t read yet. I’ll be honest, I mostly use my Kindle for the eARCs that I receive, but every once in awhile I do get ebooks for it. As I was scrolling through my library I was reminded that about a year back I bought “Pretty Dead Girls” by Monica Murphy. It had shown up on my twitter feed, as a popular YA twitter account was singing its praises. There are so many things that should have worked in this narrative, at least for me. You have a climbing body count. You have popular mean girls who may be the top suspects. You have a local bad boy who may be misunderstood, MY KRYPTONITE! These are the ingredients for a stew that would normally set my tastes aflame. But by the time I had finished “Pretty Dead Girls”, I was left disappointed and wanting a whole lot more.

As I always try to do, I will start with what did work for me, and that is the aforementioned bad boy Cass. This is in all likelihood due to the fact that he seems to have been written to fit each and every trope that I love to see in a misunderstood outsider; there are rumors about him at school, he has a tragic back story, he dresses all in black and freaks people out, but at the end of the day he’s a genuinely good person who shows the protagonist (Penelope) what real love and loyalty is. Is it an overdone trope? For sure. My inevitable reaction to the character when he shows up?

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Never fails. (source)

But even this doesn’t quite work in the broader context of the book. Because Cass’s relationships with other characters feel at times forced, and at other times a bit problematic. While I wanted to like him and Penelope and their budding relationship, I didn’t like that his ‘bad boy’ persona/plot device pushed him into almost psychopathic territory. For example, at one point he drives like a maniac that scares the hell out of Penelope, and it’s played off as ‘sexy and daring’, as well as used as a way for Penelope to perhaps question as to whether or not he is the mysterious killer. It feels lumped in and a bit lazy, and while I know that in real life bad boys are probably not going to be good dating choices, this is fiction, dammit! And these things, in the words of the drag queen Valentina, do not make sense with my fantasy! Especially since that wasn’t the overall point that was trying to be made.

On top of that, other characters never really move outside of their tropey boxes. Penelope is likable enough, but she doesn’t experience much growth outside of realizing that her friends are jerks and that Cass isn’t what he seems. Penelope’s main nemesis Courtney is the prototypical mean queen bee who also has some private pain. The other characters are pretty much relegated to being there as potential suspects, or eventual body count padding. I was hoping that we would get more growth from every one, but they basically remained two dimensional and static.

This could have been brushed aside and/or justified by myself as a reader had the plot been able to carry the weight, but as it was I wasn’t really invested in the mystery of ‘who is the killer and who is going to be next?’. The characters who did die (with the exception of one, but I won’t spoil it here) weren’t really characters that held emotional weight when they were killed. And while the identity of the killer was played up, with first person perspectives from the mystery person to boot, by the time it was revealed whodunnit, the solution fell flat due to a lack of real motive building and characterization before they were ‘unmasked’. It just felt like a ‘gotcha!’ that wasn’t earned.

I was disappointed because I had high hopes for “Pretty Dead Girls”. But it just goes to show that sometimes the perfect ingredients aren’t going to combine to make a well done final product. While I think that it would work for other readers, it didn’t work for me.

Rating 4: While the premise had a lot of potential, I was underwhelmed by “Pretty Dead Girls”. Not even a romance between a brooding bad boy and uptight good girl could save it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pretty Dead Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Teen Screams”, and “YA Suspense/Thriller/Mystery”.

Find “Pretty Dead Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Give It a Listen: Our Favorite Audiobook Narrators

Both of us like to listen to some of our books as audiobooks. And as any fan of this format of reading knows, the narrator really makes or breaks the story. There have been ok-ish books that have been greatly aided by the clever performance of a great reader. And then other quality books that have felt bogged down by a narrator who just doesn’t seem to quite fit with the story they’re trying to tell. Throughout the years, we’ve each identified some clear favorites, and so that’s what we’re bring you today!

Serena’s Picks:

Barbara Rosenblat

Barbara Rosenblat has been a long time favorite of mine. She’s pretty much a long time favorite of most audiobook readers and is one of the more sought after narrators out there, especially due to her wide range of accents that the can seemingly effortlessly apply to any work. I first came across in a read of one of Kathy Reichs “Temperance Brennan” series. I’ve read those on and off, but have always enjoyed them more in audiobook format as Rosenblat’s superb narration can add some flare to some criminal mystery elements that could be a bit dry for my usual mystery reading preferences. The other obvious favorite read by Rosenblat is the “Amelia Peabody” series. I read the first several as print books before, due to lack of availability at the library of the next one in print, I looked up the audiobook version on a whim and discovered Rosenblat narrated these, too! That sealed the deal. Even if I had to go back to reading a print version of this series, I don’t think I could do it without hearing Rosenblat’s pitch perfect rendition of Amelia Peabody’s voice. This series, character, and narrator is the perfect blend that comes from many great things coming together to make something that is,together, beyond reproach.

Tim Gerard Reynolds

Tim Gerard Reynolds is also a well-known, much-awarded audiobook narrator. And as he narrates a bunch of fantasy and sci-fi titles, I’ve run across him a number of times. There is an added challenge when narrating fantasy/sci-fi titles in that many of these works include completely fictionalized words, names, peoples, and worlds. This leaves a lot of creative interpretation at the hands of the narrator. Obviously, the author knows how certain words should be pronounced, but many readers are left to their own devices to succeed, or not succeed, in matching these expectations when reading from a print book. As an audiobook, readers fully experience the world and these words as they’re meant to be presented. On top of that, there is a lot of room for creativity in the voice work of characters who are from worlds and cultures that don’t exist. Reynolds is an expert at all of these things, making the most extreme fantasy setting and people jump off the page, seemingly fully formed and as common place in their idioms and voices as anyone on our good, ole, normal Earth. Each character has a distinct voice, and I’m particularly pleased with the way he interprets women’s voices. The “Age of Myth” and its fellow books have a huge cast of female characters, and Reynolds provides an excellent voice for them all, never falling into any of the pitfalls that can occur when trying to narrate for the opposite gender. He’s also excellent with action, and I particularly enjoy his work in the “Red Rising” series, a group of books full of intense, sci-fi actions scenes.

Simon Vance

Simon Vance is an audiobook narrator whom I had actually forgotten I enjoyed so much until I ran across him again in my read of Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series. I’ve read a lot of Guy Gavriel Kay in my day, many of them audiobooks. And while I remember particularly enjoying them as audiobooks, it’s been years since I’ve listened to one, so couldn’t remember who narrated them specifically. But when I started listening to the first “Temeraire” book, “His Majesty’s Dragon,” it all came back with the first sound of Vance, clear, melodious British voice. While many of Gavriel Kay’s books are fantasy, they also have a feeling of a historical fiction work. And obviously, so too with the “Temeraire” series. Vance voice perfectly bridges these two genres, in a sense grounding the more fantastical elements of a story into a world that feels believable as set in our own world. Novik’s sotry is one of dragons fighting during the Napoleonic Wars. Nothing could sound more far-fetched. But with her own brilliant world-building, paired with Vance’s smooth, proper voice, it suddenly feels completely believable that a gentleman would go to war on the back of a massive dragon. Now that I’ve rediscovered his voice work, I’m eager to dive back into several of Gavriel Kay’s books that I’ve been meaning to get to, all, of course, narrated by Vance.

Kate’s Picks:

Santino Fontana

Some people will always see Santino Fontana as his various Broadway characters. Others will always see him as Prince Hans in the Disney movie “Frozen”. For me, Fontana is always, ALWAYS going to be the voice of Joe Goldberg in Caroline Kepnes’s “You” books. Fontana brings the creepy and yet hilarious Joe to life through his dark and yet endearing performance, capturing all angles of one of my favorite literary villains, and characters, of all time. His delivery is versatile for the characters in the books, and his timing is spot on, finding the proper beats to build suspense and find the humor. “You” and “Hidden Bodies” are my go to audiobooks when I need something familiar and comforting(?) to listen to, and while part of that is the narrative, the other part is Fontana. Fontana is not only an avid voiceover artist, he’s recently won a Tony for his leading performance in Broadway’s “Tootsie”, and he is going to be the audiobook narrator for Stephen King’s upcoming “The Institute”! So, that may have to be an audiobook read for me as well!

Will Patton

I first heard Will Patton perform an audiobook when I checked out “Doctor Sleep”. My main points of reference for him were movies like “Remember the Titans” and “The Mothman Prophecies” (and many, many more), but didn’t know what to expect from him doing an audiobook. But my goodness, he completely blew my mind. Patton’s strengths are that he knows how to completely transform his tone, cadence, and vocalizations for each and every character, and not only does he modify his voice when they are talking, he also does so for the entire section that is focusing on said character. Whenever I find out that he is going to be doing the voice work on an audiobook I’ve checked out, I get that much more excited for it. He emotes perfectly, and I have to say that his interpretation of Rose the Hat in “Doctor Sleep” is still one of my favorite performances from an audiobook, bar none. His versatility is on display when he’s an audiobook narrator, and if you find yourself with something read by him, get hyped.

Anika Noni Rose

This is an example of how a not so positive reading experience can be transformed by the person who is reading it. I tried to read a print copy of “Shadowshaper” by Daniel José Older, but just couldn’t get into it. My pickiness about fantasy strikes again. But one day I was looking at the books that were available for audio download, and saw that “Shadowshaper” was narrated by Anika Noni Rose. Given that I really like Rose, thanks to her turns in “Dreamgirls”, “The Princess and the Frog”, and “Everything, Everything”, I was intrigued to see how that would go. I was so happy with her performance, I listened to the entirety of “Shadowshaper” and am planning on going into “Shadowhouse Fall” as well. Rose has always been an expressive actress, and not only do we get her personality on the page, in “Shadowshaper” we get to hear her stellar singing voice. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have enjoyed “Shadowshaper” had it not been for her, and it just goes to show that sometimes what you need to enjoy a novel is a different reading medium.

Do you guys have any favorite audiobook narrators? Let us know who they are in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Storm Cursed”

9780425281291_StormCursed_FCO_mech.inddBook: “Storm Cursed” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.

And a coyote shapeshifter.

And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it.

Previously Reviewed:“Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” and “Fire Touched” and“Silence Fallen”

Review: I had some trepidation going into this book. As a whole, the Mercy Thomson series has been on somewhat of a downward trend for me the last several books, so I was worried that would continue. On top of that, the last “Alpha and Omega” book introduced a new aspect to a beloved character who appears in both series, and one that influences Mercy’s own history more than anyone’s. And I had feelings about that. Not good ones. So I was worried how that might come into play here. And then, of course, my lovely Kate Daniels series just finished up, so now all of my urban fantasy hopes and dreams rest on this series. It was a lot. But I am pleased to report that what you have before you is a review where for once all of my worst fears were for naught and instead I found this book to be a happy return to what I always loved about this series in the first place!

Mercy and the Pack are busy protecting the territory that Mercy has claimed as theirs to protect. On top of that, she’s trying to re-open her car shop and help her husband, Adam, balance precarious negotiations between the powerful fae Grey Lords and the human political powers. These things barely in hand, Mercy is dismayed to find that a new group of witches have taken up residence in her neighborhood, bringing with them all the terrors and sorrows that accompany the dark magic they need for their powers. With tensions running high, this is just the challenge they don’t need. And on top of it all, Mercy and the others begin to wonder what role their own resident witch, the powerful Elizabeta plays in all of this.

The first thing that this book did right, in my estimation, is return to the original, single narrator format. I’ve always been here for Mercy and her story. And while the last few books have had a few interesting things to offer with the added POVs from Adam, overall, I’ve found these chapters to be at best distracting and at worst detracting from Mercy’s story overall. In the last book, for example, I came away from the story feeling that Adam’s portion could almost have been removed entirely with no other changes really needed. And as it was, those chapters just took away page time from Mercy herself.

So I was incredibly happy when I opened this book and realized that the entire thing would be from Mercy’s perspective alone. There’s not a lot of new things to say about her as a narrator, as we’re now so many books into the series. But the strengths that were there in the beginning were back again here: Mercy’s unique perspective on the supernatural world, her wit, and her practical approach to navigating challenges that are often far outside of her wheelhouse.

Overall, she was a bit more reactive to the events going on around her than proactive, but I think this is a natural change for her character, as the world she exists within has gotten so much bigger. With this expanding world has come an entire host of friends and allies to call upon, and I’m always glad when I see these individuals pulled in in creative ways. In particular, I enjoyed the return of Stephan, the vampire friend with whom Mercy now shares a complicated relationship that they are each still learning to navigate.

As for the story itself, I was pleased to find that no mention was made of the “reveal” that came up in the last “Alpha and Omega.” I’m hopeful that at the very least we can all go along pretending that that never happened, though I’d be happier still to find it categorically negated in some future book.

This book also felt much more dark than some of the previous entries. Witches and their black magic rely on inflicting pain and suffering on other creatures, so any book that features them as the primary antagonists is going to go to some pretty horrific places. For those animals lovers out there (among whom I count myself), definitely be prepared for some tears and cringe worthy scenes. At times it felt like a bit much. But on the other hand, I think I was also more invested in the downfall of the “big bads” in this book than in many of the previous ones due to the increased horror of their actions.

Accurate across all supernatural books/shows, it seems. 

I could have used a bit more Adam/Mercy time, and the book description with its focus on the negotiation between the fae and the humans is a bit misleading, as that feels like a more minor story line, ultimately. But overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, much more so than the last several in fact! It’s always great to see a long-running series prove that it still has something fresh and new to offer. This goes a long way towards reassuring my near panic about not having an urban fantasy series to look forward to any longer. Fans of the series should be pleased with this one!

Rating 8: Mercy Thomson and Briggs can still deliver!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Storm Cursed” is mostly on Goodreads book lists that have to do with new titles this year, so here’s one of those it is on: “2019 Paranormal.”

Find “Storm Cursed” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Clueless: One Last Summer”

38926467Book: “Clueless: One Last Summer” by Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Box, December 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Cher, Dionne, and Tai set off for one last summer of footloose and fancy-free fashion and fun before college starts! 

The class of 1997 has left Bronson Alcott High School for good, and as the weather heats up, Cher and besties Dionne and Tai head off for their last summer vacation adventure together before, ugh, REAL LIFE! 

Picking up after Clueless: Senior Year, head back to the ’90s for summer fun and fashion from superstar writers Sarah Kuhn (Heroine Complex) and Amber Benson (The Witches of Echo Park), and illustrator Siobhan Keenan.

Review: It took a little while for my library to get this book in their catalog, but they did and I got it right in time for summer! As I mentioned in my review of “Clueless: Senior Year” (linked at the bottom of the post), “Clueless” is one of my favorite movies and no matter how many times I watch it I will never get sick of it. I was very excited for the next comic when I heard that it was coming out, and the sort of long wait was absolutely worth it. Just like “Senior Year” before it, “One Last Summer” brings back Cher, Dionne, Tai, and more, and gives them worthy stories of their fabulous characters. On top of that, we got some focus on characters we hadn’t even seen yet (still no Elton though. I get it, but I love that creep so much that I can’t help but be bitter).

Cher, Dionne, and Tai are the primary focuses of the story, as they all have their own conundrums to solve, while trying not to think about how things are going to be changing in their lives. Cher has taken on a summer internship as an assistant to an advice columnist (who is not a very good or honest person, much to Cher’s chagrin), Dionne is in charge of planning a beach party that her parents are helming, and Tai is preparing for her favorite aunt to come to town, and introducing her to Travis. On top of that, all three of them are hoping to solve a mystery for their friend Summer, who has a secret admirer. The stories are kind of simplistic to be sure, but the characters were just so in character and absolutely on point that I highly enjoyed every foray that they went on. I also enjoyed that for some of the characters, especially Dionne, the worries and anxieties about having to go to a new environment and leave people behind make things all the more stressful, even if they don’t totally get why. I found Dionne’s storyline to be especially compelling, as she and Murray are going to different schools across countries from each other. The anxiety and fear of a long distance relationship after high school was captured perfectly, and as someone who knows from experience hers was the story that I most related to. It’s also great seeing the spotlight being shared between these three girls once again, as they all are so endearing and different from each other.

But as mentioned above, “One Last Summer” also brings more attention to other characters that didn’t get as much last time. The biggest one is Summer, a character from the movie who is probably best remembering for her shining moments at the Valley Party, where she initiated a game of Suck and Blow, and snagged a lawn snowman for no discernible reason. I liked seeing her being brought into the main three friend group, and I liked how well she fit in. Benson and Kuhn made her a distinct and fun character who is similar enough to fit in with Cher, Dionne, and Tai, but different enough that she felt like she had her own complexities. And I mean, fine, if we can’t get Elton I was totally happy getting another awesome lady character. Along with Summer we did see a little more focus on other characters, like Josh, Murray, and Travis. And on top of that, they got to play roles that usually are reserved for female characters, which felt like a bit of a subversion and I REALLY liked it. For Josh, we got to see his own insecurities when it comes to his relationship with Cher and his worries that she still may judge him when he’s a bit of a geek. For Murray, it’s his fears about the long distance relationship, and not being sure of how to deal with Dionne when her anxiety turns into anger. And for Travis, HE IS JUST SO SUPPORTIVE AND ADORABLE AND SWEET, just there to love Tai like she’s the goddamn best thing ever. HOW WONDERFUL IS THAT?

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While Josh and Cher are my favorite couple, THESE TWO MELT MY HEART TOO. (source)

And the art continues to be very bubblegum and perfect for the tone. The characters look enough like their counterparts that it feels like the actors and actresses, but also show off Keenan’s unique style.

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Awww. (source)

“Clueless: One Last Summer” was a bittersweet but lovely story for the characters from “Clueless”. I understand that Benson and Kuhn might stop here, but honestly they could keep telling these stories with these characters and I would be filled with joy.

Rating 8: Another fun and nostalgic story featuring some of my favorite movie characters, “Clueless: One Last Summer” brings back some classic characters, brings in new ones, and serves some cute summer stories!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Clueless: One Last Summer” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Summer Break Books for YA”, and “Comics & Graphic Novels by Women”.

Find “Clueless: One Last Summer” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Clueless: Senior Year”.

Serena’s Review: “Fray”

40696990Book: “Fray” by Rowenna Miller

Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2019

Where Did I  Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Open revolt has been thwarted — for now — but unrest still simmers in the kingdom of Galitha. Sophie, despite having built a thriving business on her skill at both dressmaking and magic, has not escaped unscathed from her misadventures in the workers’ rebellion. Her dangerous foray into curse casting has rendered her powers unpredictable, and her increasingly visible romantic entanglement with the Crown Prince makes her a convenient target for threatened nobles and malcontented commoners alike.

With domestic political reform and international alliances — and her own life — at stake, Sophie must discern friend from foe… before her magic grows too dark for her to wield.

Previously Reviewed: “Torn”

Review: I enjoyed the political, magical-sewing, romance story that was “Torn,” so it was a no brainer to request a copy of its sequel. The first book had moved rather slowly, for all that it was introducing new characters and a new world, so I was hopeful that now that that groundwork had been laid, the pace would pick up a bit more here. Unfortunately no.

Sophie’s orderly life of quiet competence as a small business owner is quickly falling apart. Not only does she have a rebel leader for a brother, one whom she was tied closely to in the failed revolt that took place not too long ago, but her growing attachment to the Crown Prince is thrusting her into a completely new part of society, and one that doesn’t look too kindly on the doings of revolutionaries. On top of all this, after she used her magic in new ways in the last book, she has begun to lose control of it. These dueling priorities are often at odds with each other and it’s beginning to look like Sophie is going to have to choose a side eventually.

Many of my opinions from the first book carried over to this one, however, ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much. For one thing, the pace of the book is still incredibly slow. I enjoy a political fantasy novel as much as the next person, but much of the slowness here is spent on minute day-to-day details, rather than backroom scheming. Much of what helped the first book manage its slow pace was the fact that it was a first book and was throwing tons of new stuff at the reader simply due to that fact. With a second book, and an established world and main character, the story itself needs to provide the points of interest. Unfortunately, it didn’t really do that and I still feel like the book could have been edited down significantly.

I also still enjoyed the magic system, however. Especially now that it is getting out of Sophie’s control. In the first book, it was made clear that Sophie herself didn’t fully understand her magic, and when she pushed herself into new aspects of charming, she was exploring without much of a guide. Seeing the calm, controlled Sophie that we knew from the first book deal with the unexpectedness that is now her magic was fun to read. It was also interesting having her explore the morality of how she uses her magic and how that ties into the way the magic behaves itself.

The romance was also still fairly bland for my taste. But I did like how the book was tackling the sexist laws of the land that will prevent Sophie from owning her own business once she gets married.

However, the one big strike against this  book for me was Sophie herself and the way the brewing revolution seems to be being handled. One of the most compelling aspects of the first book was the honest look at what revolutions look like, the tough places where idealism and practicality meet and explode. The fact that there are good and bad people on both sides. And, even more importantly, there are people in the middle who can understand both sides but just want to get on with life. That was Sophie. Unfortunately, here, in the second novel, much of that nuance and layered exploration is thrown out. Sophie seems almost out of character with how much she sides now with the revolutionaries. And, conveniently, the story itself has molded the two sides to make this choice easier. The common people are fully in the right. The aristocrats are completely evil. It’s a really unfortunate loss, simplifying matters back into the easy good vs. evil conflicts we’ve seen a million times. And with the unoriginal “common folk vs. the evil nobility” theme nonetheless.

In the end, I don’t feel that this book moved the series in the right direction. Some of the flaws from the first one (slow pace, bland romance) carried over to this one. And the interesting additional layers to Sophie’s magic weren’t enough to make up for the fact that the complicated political philosophizing was thrown out the window for a more standard, less interesting, revolution of the good folk against the bad ones. If you enjoyed the romance and the pace of the first book more than me, perhaps this one won’t be as much of a let down. But unfortunately, it was a bit of a dud for me.

Rating 6: Loses its nuance, and with it, its point of interest.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fray” is a newer book so isn’t on any Goodreads list but it, like “Torn,” should be on “Crafty Magic.”

Find “Torn” at your library using WorldCat!