Serena’s Review: “The Providence of Fire”

The Providence of Fire Book: “The Providence of Fire” by Brian Staveley

Publishing Info: Tor, January 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.

Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy.

Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire’s most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

Spoilers for the first book “The Emperor’s Blades”

Review: The second book in Staveley’s “Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne” series is like one of those scenes that starts zoomed in a on kid playing, and then zooms back and the kid is in large park, and then zooms back and the park is in a huge city, and so on and so forth. What I’m saying is that the world building goes from complex to wait…what now?? But Staveley’s control of his narrative, world, and characters never stumbles under this added mythology. If anything, the strength of this series only grows with the additional challenges and complications thrown in the mix.

What is the most impressive about this series is Staveley’s ability to handle his three main characters. Kaden, Valyn, and Adare have a more equal balance this time, as far as page time goes. Each is traveling such a distinctive path. Kaden’s is a cerebral journey pealing back the mysteries of the Shin, the portal-like doorways of the kenta, and the history between the Csestriam, the gods they sought to kill, and humanity caught within a struggle between power players completely out of their league. Valyn’s journey continues as the most straight forward. He is a man of action, and action itself becomes his motivation. While Kaden and Adare spend much of their time balancing the intricacies of the pieces on the world-sized board, Valyn sets a goal and moves towards it, even if reaching that goal means aligning with the Urghul, the savage enemies of his own Empire. Adare, the politician, is forced to re-evalutate her own role in this crumbling world. Betrayed by her own general, Adare is driven out of her city in desperate attempt to gain allies and a find new foothold to combat the roving Urghul armies heading her direction.

What is so amazing about this balance is also what is so frustrating. Kaden, Adare, and Valyn all are seeing limited parts of the story and reacting in ways that are consistent to their worldviews and preferred operating methods. But these choices and stories conflict, setting the three up against each other with misunderstanding and suspicion. While reading each chapter, I could completely understand and sympathize with each character’s decisions. But then once I switched to the next chapter it became clear that no, this other character had the right idea about things.

As the story progresses, each character made decisions that made me want to shake them. However, I see this as a strength of the story. Staveley’s characters are flawed and limited by the knowledge they have and their own personalities and tendencies that lead them towards one decision or another. It was perhaps more uncomfortable if only because I think many fantasy readers are accustomed to our heroes and heroines quickly evolving into specific tropes. Kaden should be all-wise, calm, and reasoned. Valyn should be completely heroic, using violence in only the most esteemable ways. And Adare should be clever, easily wrapping her foes around her finger and springing elaborate traps. When they fail to behave as we expect, it’s frustrating, uncomfortable, and frankly, awesome.

This book also made a lot of strides to improve upon the last as far as page time and use of its female characters. Adare is given an equal portion of the story; in fact, hers becomes my favorite of the three siblings. And a new character, Gwenna, a member of Valyn’s group of Kestrel fighters, gets her own sprinkling of chapters. This was particularly welcome. As I said, the three siblings become very caught up in the increasingly complicated web that is the Empire, and it was a relief to read chapters from the very straight-forward thinking Gwenna. She was brash, sympathetic, and highly entertaining. So, too, Triste’s role in the story is greatly increased.

And, as I mentioned, the amazing world building cannot be over emphasized. Most epic fantasy relies on a complex historical past for its world. In this book, it becomes more and more clear that this history is not as understood as it was thought to be. Not only that, but history is still unraveling even in the present. The Csestriam, the old gods, the new gods, the mad, power-hungry leaches of centuries past, the Atmani. They all weave in and out of the story in completely unexpected ways. By the end of the book, I was left questioning everything I thought I had understood from the first book.

All told, “The Providence of Fire” only improved on what was an amazing fantasy epic to begin with. The added complexity of the world and the characters left me constantly guessing and re-evaluating my opinions. While the previous book had slow sections, particularly in the beginning with Kaden’s chapters, this story moves at full throttle from beginning to end. “The Emperor’s Blades” laid out the threads of each storyline, and “The Providence of Fire” tangled them all up into such a mess that I have no idea how Staveley is going to wrap this all up. But I do know that I’m looking forward to finding out!

Rating 9: So good! So worried about what’s coming next!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Providence of Fire” is included in this Goodreads list: “Must Read Epic Fantasy.”

Find “The Providence of Fire” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Review of “The Emperor’s Blades”

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol 2): Depths”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol 2): Depths” by Gail Simone, Nicolla Scott (Ill.), Carlos Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When Batman’s cowl winds up for grabs after his death in FINAL CRISIS, two members of the Secret Six think they have what it takes to be the new Dark Knight. But will Robin put up with the unruly team in his hometown? And where have all the forgotten heroes and villains of the DC Universe been? The Six are blackmailed by someone claiming to be their old boss, Mockingbird, into a brand-new mission taking them into the heart of the metahuman slave trade! And Artemis, the former Wonder Woman, returns in the most brutal Secret Six story yet!

Review: As much as I do love a good dark and twisted story, I am also quite the fan of fluffy, goofy, one off side stories that round out my favorite characters. That’s the reason that I do find myself reading comics skewed towards younger readers, such as “Li’l Gotham” and “Itty Bitty Hellboy”. I am usually very excited when the adult comics I read go in a more light hearted direction, and I was very happily surprised when Secret Six even got in on this action, at least a little bit, in “Depths”. I will talk about the main, progressing plot line first. But know that there is more. So much more.

In the progressing story, The Secret Six has been given a new assignment by someone who is claiming to be their old boss, Mockingbird, and it leads them to Devil’s Island, where a man named Mr. Smyth hopes to build the world’s largest, and only prison. This concept let the Six explore the idea of prisons, and who we put in them. It never felt preachy, and I really enjoyed the way that it was presented. The best part about this plot progressing story line was that we got an appearance from the HBIC herself, Wonder Woman! I literally screeched when my precious Diana Prince arrived on the scene, and though I didn’t really care for some of the twists and turns in this arc, Wonder Woman’s presence made up for it. As did the expansion of Jeanette’s role. We finally got to see her in full on banshee mode. I had been waiting so long for that. I will definitely admit that I am starting to get a little frustrated with how these team members find ways to betray each other, and I’m starting to fear that this is just going to be par for the course. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet here we are.

But I mentioned a diversion story line at the beginning of this. Before we got into the dark and gritty (and of course sarcastic) story of Devil’s Island, we got two fun side stories featuring the Six and their shenanigans. There is the response comic (I have to think?) to Batman’s Death in Final Crisis, in which Bane, Catman, and Ragdoll take a night to do some good in honor of the fallen Bat. Watching these guys saving children from kidnappers all over Gotham was super cute, especially since Ragdoll was wearing a Robin outfit and none of them really knew how to function as heroes, though their efforts were so sweet and well meaning.

AND THEN there is the double date story.

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You read that right. 

Deadshot and Jeanette go on a date with Scandal and Liana. Who’s Liana? Liana is the exotic dancer that the Six hired for Scandal when she was mourning Knockout’s death in the first volume. She’s back, and she’s such a darling and lovely character that I can’t help but love her. While at first I was a bit worried that Scandal’s relationship with her was going to be weird and macabre (given how much she looks like Knockout), she adds a lovely bit of balance to a group of ne’er-do-wells with her non cynical outlook on life.This entire story may have felt a bit like fanfiction on paper, but it worked because the characters were so true to themselves. I really wish that there were more stories like this in The Secret Six series. They are truly at their best and brightest when they are being a ridiculous and dysfunctional group of friends. I would read this series if it was just a humorous group of regular people having to share a loft, because the characters do work that well outside of being super villains.

I definitely want more. These characters remain incredibly charming and likable, and I hope that they stay that way. If only all comic characters could be written with such wit and complexities.

Rating 8: Great to see Amazons like Diana and Artemis, and cute side storylines that are very amusing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol. 2): Depths” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels” and “Swancon 2013 Reading List”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol. 2): Depths” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”, “Unhinged”.

Book Club Review: “The Outsiders”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

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

Book: “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

Publishing Info: Viking Press, April 1967

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it, Serena got hers from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

Kate’s Thoughts:

It was my turn to pick the book for book club, and I knew right away that I wanted to to “The Outsiders”. Unlike a lot of middle or high schoolers in this country, I did not initially read this book when I was a teenager. When I turned eleven or twelve I made the transition to reading adult novels as opposed to those for the teenage set. My sister, however, had a copy, and I knew that she liked it. So I first read “The Outsiders” when I was in graduate school in my Young Adult Literature and Services class. So I wasn’t exactly at the right age demographic when I read it, but I loved it. A whole, whole lot.

Reading it again did not diminish my love for this book. I think that while it takes place in the 1960s, the themes of isolation, teen rivalry, violence, abuse, and loss are timeless and can still be applied today. It may be a fight between the poor greasers and the rich socs, but it could be any group at odds within a teenage community. S.E. Hinton wrote this book when she was a fifteen year old herself, and so Ponyboy’s voice is very authentic and rings very true. What amazes me is that this was written by a fifteen year old, as it definitely seems like it has a feel for these issues from that of one much wiser. Hinton wrote better than I ever did at age fifteen, I can tell you that much.

I also love how so many of the characters have fully realized personalities. To me the most fascinating and complicated characters are Darry, Ponyboy’s older brother, and Dallas (aka Dally), the head greaser in Ponyboy’s group. Darry is portrayed to a T as a boy who had to grow up too fast and raise his younger siblings when their parents died. I love how Darry’s frustrations come out, but so does his love, and while I’m sure as a teenager I would have been critical of Darry and how he reacts and relates to Ponyboy, as an adult I just want to sweet him up and give him a hug. And then there’s Dallas, the character with the biggest mouth, the worst attitude, and the most tragic core. I love that Dally has his awful and mean moments, but you know that he loves his friends, specifically the doomed Johnny, and has little to live for outside of them.

And finally, the theme of growing up, sometimes too fast, carries a lot of weight in this book. Johnny does so when he accidentally kills Bob the Soc. This strikes a sharp contrast to Ponyboy, who wants to grow up as fast as he can, and those around him, specifically Johnny and Darry, want him to cling to his childhood. To ‘stay gold’. The difference between Ponyboy and the other Outsiders is that he has that familial support in both his brothers Sodapop and Darry. Even if their family is hurting and broken, they still love each other, which ultimately, I think, saves Ponyboy from himself.

No it isn’t perfect. There aren’t many girl characters, and only one, Cherry, has any development to her character. And the scene with the church fire always seemed pretty over the top to me, though the consequences of it never feel melodramatic. Sometimes Ponyboy’s voice was grating, and while I know that he’s supposed to be a naive teenage boy it was a little hard to deal with how not self aware he was. But overall, these are quibbles.

Gosh. I love this book. Imperfect as it may be in some ways, I still love it.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Can I just write “what Kate said” and leave it at that?

Well, I guess I have a different story of when I first read it. Not much of a story, actually, but it was an assigned book in my highschool English class. Which meant I was forced to hate it initially. In reality, I didn’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t a book that I listed on any favorite lists. Honestly, looking back, I barely remembered anything from this book, so re-reading it for bookclub was a lot like reading it for the first time.

In all seriousness, really, what Kate said. I had similar feelings about a lot of the characters, specifically my love for Darry. As an older sibling, I think I naturally gravitated towards him. I don’t remember having any teenage angst towards him as cramping on Ponyboy’s style when I read it the first time, but I probably did. But as an adult, I just want to cry and rock him. (I only just now looked up at Kate’s review and saw that she said she wanted to hug him. We have the same mind!)

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As a literature major, I also enjoyed the heck out of the literary discussions in this. I had forgotten how many there were, between “Gone with the Wind” and the obvious “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I can see why they used this in my English class! Sneaky, sneaky. If we read this, maybe we’ll read those!

But it’s clear where the success of this book lies: the honest portrayal of life as a group of teenage boys. It’s amazing that a 16 year old young woman wrote this. The beauty, pain, growth, limitations, every aspect of what it would be like as a young man growing up in this situation seems to be touched upon. And with such frank honesty. There is no trying to hard. There is no morality story for the sake of a morality story. It simply is. And what it is is amazing. This book should be highlighted whenever people start falling down the rabbit hole for why it may be too challenging for a male author to write from a woman’s perspective or vice versa.

A few weaknesses for me: as a narrator, at times, Ponyboy could come off in a way that was off putting. But, this could be as much another example of an honest portrayal of teenagedom as anything else. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the bookended beginning and end of the story. This could also be something that I’m less tolerant of for having seen it done one too many times. At the time this book was published originally, I imagine I would have felt differently.

All in all, however, I really enjoyed “The Outsiders” and am glad that Kate forced to re-evaluate my rebellious teenage opinion.

Kate’s Rating 9: This book stands the test of time with its relatable characters and themes. It may not be perfect, but it’s imperfections are dwarfed by it’s merits.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very enjoyable and still a strong recommendation for teenagers and adults alike!

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of “The Outsiders”. The cast in this movie is fabulous, with youngster versions of Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, and Matt Dillon. And a not as young as the rest version of Patrick Swayze, who was, by book club consensus, the most attractive of all the Outsiders.

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I mean, really. (source)

The adaptation is a pretty faithful one, though the original theatrical release left out a lot of stuff that happens with Darry and Sodapop. Luckily, there is a director’s cut version called “The Outsiders: The Complete Novel” that adds all of this back in.

1. Who is your favorite Outsider? What is it about them that makes them your favorite?

2. What do you think of how this book is framed (as an essay Ponyboy is writing)? Does this work for you as a reader?

3. How do you feel about Darry as a character? What do you think of how he handles Ponyboy?

4. What did you think of Cherry and the other Socs? What function does Cherry serve in this book?

5. “The Outsiders” came out in 1967 and is seen as one of the first YA novels. Do you think that it holds up for a modern audience? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Outsiders” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Young Adult Realistic Novels”, and “Best Coming of Age Stories”.

Find “The Outsiders” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Serena’s Review: “City of Stairs”

City of Stairs Review: “City of Stairs” by Robert Jackson Bennett

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the quiet woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters — dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem — and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

Review: This book is like a magical combination of everything I love to read.

Ingredients for Serena’s favorite reading experience:

  • a unique, fantasy setting
  • a compelling main character with a diverse and interesting set of companions
  • a mystery that is both challenging but has also been well laid out with clues
  • a good helping of action scenes
  • a dash of philosophy
  • a sprinkle of witty dialogue

Mix well and consume!

Bennett’s “City of Stairs” was a perfect concoction.

Honestly, this book was so good, I don’t even know where to start. Not only that, but the world that Bennett has created, its history, its peoples, its culture, is so elaborate and detailed that almost anything I say will be wildly, misleadingly, simplified. I guess I’ll try to just touch on a few of my favorite aspects.

The characters. I could probably list every single character here and just call it good. Shara was a great leading character. She’s reminiscent of a noir detective, combined with Hermione Granger, with the chops of James Bond. Her “secretary,” Sigrud is essentially a giant Viking with a dark past who’s taking names. Turyin Mulaghesh: grizzled war veteran. She just wants to retire on an island, but her inherent badassery is always going to get in the way. Vohannes, a Continental native whose political savvy and charm make him an indisposable ally or a disastrous foe. Aunt Vinya, the “M” of the Saypurian spy network. I could go on. Essentially, this cast is diverse, complex, and perfectly balanced. There wasn’t an unrealized character or point of view to be found.

But the real strength of this story is the intricate analysis of its world. There are two aspects that I most want to focus on: colonialism and religion. The relationship between the Continent and Saypur is laid out in a way that is so perfectly imperfect. The Continent, once the powerhouse of the world, invaded Saypur and enslaved its people for centuries. After their Gods fell at the hands of a Saypurian general, the Continent sunk into disrepair. Saypur has risen as the new center of culture and economics. Saypur has occupied the Continent and outlawed the Continent’s own history. What makes this balance so striking is the honest portrayal of the failings of countries. The line between the oppressor and the oppressed is constantly tested.

The real success here is the sadness this book evokes. The Continentals did terrible things. But the remnants of their history are laid slowly before you, the ruin of what once were glorious feats of architecture, and you can’t help but feel a sense of loss. This ability to balance the wonder, beauty, and terrible, sudden quenching of culture and people with the true horror that was the Continentals’ reign makes this book special.

The commentary on religion is even stronger. In a world where once Gods walked the earth and directly touched the lives of people, religion and faith have a different meaning. The sense of entitlement that can come with a belief system would inevitably become even more prevalent. The Continentals can see and interact with their Gods. Saypur is literally Godless. How can the Continentals not be blessed and meant to be the center of the world?

Beyond this, each God has his or her own set of beliefs, ways of interacting with their followers, and chosen method of influencing the world. Kolkan reflects a rule-based religion. Judgement and punishment is at its core. Olvos is the Goddess of light. Hers is a faith based in thinking for oneself and living a life of service. Jukov is a God of mischief. He’ll as likely bless you as turn you into a flock of birds. Life should be lived to its fullest and the chaos of the world embraced. Each of these Gods and their specific faith systems carry traces of the familiar. Buried within it all is a deeper discussion of power and where it lies. Does faith and religion carry meaning because of the power of its God or the power of its followers?

It’s hard to discuss much of this book without spoiling the best parts. For a story that takes place in a world where knowledge of its past is forbidden, the slow reveal of history, its lies and truths, is a huge factor in the reader’s enjoyment. I won’t ruin it for you!

Let it just be said, beyond having some really interesting things to say, there are also some truly fun adventures. Shara and Sigrud battle a sea monster. Sigrud battles ninjas. There are portals, there are magic carpets, there are mysterious cults and creepy beasts. Like I said at the beginning, everything I could possibly want!

Rating 10: Practically perfect in every way.

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Stairs” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Sword and Laser Fantasy List” and “Diversity in Fantasy and Science Fiction.”

Find “City of Stairs” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Don’t Breathe a Word”

9581507Book: “Don’t Breathe A Word” by Jennifer McMahon, Lily Rains (Narrator)

Publishing Info: HarperAudio, May 2011

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

Book Description from Goodreads: Two young lovers find themselves ensnared in a seemingly supernatural web that ties them to a young girl’s disappearance fifteen years earlier in this dark and twisty tale from the New York Times bestselling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell. Jennifer McMahon returns with a vengeance with Don’t Breathe a Word—an absolutely chilling and ingenious combination of psychological thriller, literary suspense, and paranormal page-turner that will enthrall a wildly diverse audience including, among others, avid fans of Keith Donohue (The Stolen Child), Laura Lippman (I’d Know You Anywhere), and Tana French.(In the Woods).

Review: I have had very mixed results with Jennifer McMahon. Before I started “Don’t Breathe a Word” I had read three other books of hers. I liked “The Night Sister” and “Promise Not To Tell”, but I wasn’t impressed by “The Winter People”. I was looking for a new audiobook, and decided to try this one. I had pretty high hopes for it as I started it, walking around my neighborhood at dusk. I was taken in by the story of Phoebe, a woman with a dark past, and her lover Sam, a man whose sister Lisa disappeared fifteen years prior when she was twelve and he was ten. Lisa had been obsessed with the idea of fairies, and thought that she had been chosen to be the next Fairy Queen to Taylo, King of the Fairies, and she disappeared without a trace. But then Sam and Phoebe get a phone call from a woman claiming that she is Lisa, and has returned from the Fairy Realm. So now Phoebe and Sam are trying to find out if this is Lisa, and if so, where she had been all this time, because fairies can’t be real, right?

Well don’t ask MacMahon, because she kept changing her mind about that little fact. And this probably isn’t actually what happened, but as I was listening to this book the evidence kept jumping between being something supernatural going on, or something very real and very insidious. While I think that it’s fine if a writer does these things occasionally to raise questions,  making the reader keep jumping back and forth between these questions gets tiresome. Eventually I didn’t even care anymore if it was actual fairies or some creep who preyed on a young girl, and that’s generally not a feeling you want your reader to have. I also had a hard time with the characters in this one, as none of them were particularly likable. Phoebe made terrible and stupid decisions, Sam was two dimensional AND something of a jerk to Phoebe a good chunk of the time, and Sam’s cousin Evie, a mysterious presence in the story, wasn’t threatening enough OR sympathetic enough, both things that her character needed to be depending on what the reader was supposed to believe at the time. The one character who seemed the most authentic was Lisa, whose perspective we got as well in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. I liked those parts more than the modern ones, as that was the only part that didn’t shift back and forth about whether or not this was a story about fairies or a story about evil people. For Lisa’s parts, it was about the dysfunction of her family and the tragedy that befell her because of it. I was mostly on board for her parts, and could forgive the rest of it…. But then…..

SPOILERS. SCROLL DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

Okay I am going to just talk about the ending, because that is where I just completely wanted to toss my phone out the window. So the book spent a lot of time making you wonder if fairies took Lisa, or horrible people. It turns out that she was kidnapped by her aunt Hazel, Evie’s mom, who was raped by her grandfather, and gave birth to a secret son who was part Fairy (as Hazel’s grandfather was rumored to be a Changeling fairy). So Lisa was held in captivity by her aunt, not taken to the fairies to be a bride to Taylo, but to be breeding stock with her cousin. SUPER YUCK, but okay. I was satisfied with that solution… BUT THEN, Phoebe and Sam have a baby, and MacMahon decides that “Oh wait, Taylo is actually real and he set up Phoebe and Sam through his influence and magic and he wants their baby and steals her away, replacing her with a changeling”. I was livid. You had an ending. You can’t just change your mind in an attempt to pull the rug out from under the reader!!!

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There is no other way to describe how I felt.

END SPOILERS

But I do want to say that Lily Rains, the narrator for this book, did a pretty good job. She changed her voices for every character and had a lot of life and passion in her voice.

The end pretty much ruined the rest of the book for me, and I really hate it when that happens. “Don’t Breathe a Word” had potential, and I do like MacMahon enough to give her another chance. But definitely skip this one in favor of “The Night Sister” or “Promise Not To Tell”.

Rating 4: A strong start, a shaky middle, but then an end that unraveled everything before it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t Breathe a Word” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Changelings”, and “WTF Endings”.

Find “Don’t Breathe a Word” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “Fire Touched”

Fire Touched Book: “Fire Touched” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head. And when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.

Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?

Review: Another quality cover for urban fantasy! Seriously though, covers like this explain why people hide their books on ereaders when they’re on the bus. But I will not obsess over this again! “Fire Touched” is the latest addition to Patricia Briggs’s “Mercy Thompson” series. I think I’m going to struggle reviewing this book, however. I mean, things happen, but…not much really happens.

First off, there was an attempt to rectify one of the problems I had highlighted from earlier books: the lack of positive female characters other than Mercy. The tension within the pack with regards to Mercy is faced head on in such a way that I doubt we will see much having to do with that anymore. This leaves the door open for Mercy to form closer relationships with the women pack members, like Honey and Mary Jo. There was also an attempt add a new Fae woman as a friend for Mercy. They had some good girl talk in a car that one time. It’s still not perfect. Adam’s ex-wife was shoed in unnecessarily, albeit briefly, in the beginning. But I feel like we might be moving in a better direction, all said.

Many things I had liked from previous books are still here. Mercy and Adam are still great. And I enjoyed the time that was given to Adam’s daughter Julie. She’s a fun character who I always wish to see more from. Mercy’s old boss (and powerful fae) Zee, and his son Tad, re-entered the story, and they were also favorites from past books. And the two new additions to the cast of characters were interesting.

Aiden is a boy who has spent the last several centuries trapped in the fae homeland of Underhill. While there, he has gained abilities with fire and a unique understanding and relationship with Underhill, a connection that is highly envied by the Fae who have been having a rocky time getting Underhill to cooperate. Of course, Aiden only looks like a child. He hasn’t aged, but centuries of being disconnected from the world and trapped in a land (a personified place/being?) that both loves him and toys with him like a pet has left a mark. His interactions with Julie, who takes it upon herself to update him with the ways of the modern world, are particularly fun. The summary of the book is rather misleading, as his fire abilities had very little impact on the story as a whole. His understanding of the Fae and capricious Underhill was much more interesting.

Baba Yaga also makes up a larger part of this story. She was briefly introduced in a previous book, but she plays a more integral role here. She’s a fun character, but she also highlights some of the problems I’m beginning to see with the series. She’s yet another super powerful character who rather arbitrarily decides to be Mercy’s friend. My biggest problem with this story was the lack of stakes. The team of characters that Mercy has built up around her over the past 9 books really limits the story’s ability to create situations that feel threatening anymore. There were several fights in this book, and yet I found myself largely bored by them. Mercy now has Zee (super powerful Fae), the Walking Stick, (personified powerful Fae artifact that follows her around), Adam (werewolf Alpha), Bran (werewolf Super Alpha), Stephan (powerful vampire), Thomas Hao (super powerful vampire), and on and on. Who’s going to compete against all of that? The answer is no one.

So, too, with all of these characters, the cast is just feeling bloated. There’s not enough time to focus on many of them, and I was having to constantly remind myself who people were and how they fit into the bigger picture. I miss the early days of the book where it was just Adam and Mercy against the world, with a nice sprinkling of fun personalities like Ben, Warren, and Stephen.

Between too many characters, a lack of stakes, and a plot that felt like it was actually moving backwards a bit (undoing previous books’ work at setting up the Fae as an ongoing threat against humanity), I was underwhelmed by this book. Sure, a few new fun characters showed up, but as the large cast is part of the problem, even this isn’t a huge point of favor for the story. I liked it for the carried over pieces from other books, but mostly it just felt bloated and unnecessary.

Rating 6: I still enjoyed it, but I’m concerned about whether the legs are running out on this series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fire Touched” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books with Action Heroines” and “Native American Paranormal.”

Find “Fire Touched” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Mercy Thompson” series: “Mercy Thompson series review”

 

Kate’s Review: “DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.1): Enlisted”

25982692Book: “DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.1): Enlisted” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, March 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from GoodreadsIn these stories from issues #1-6 of the hit series, learn the story behind this alternate reality where the Second World War is fought by superpowered women on the front lines and behind the scenes! It all begins with the stories of Batwoman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl.

Review: Last year our friend Anita and I went to the local Wizard World Comic Con Convention. When we were walking around the merchandise area, we saw these really cute posters of DC superheroines drawn like retro WWII-era Pin Ups. I had no clue what the story was with them, but had to get the Black Canary one for my house.

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How could I not hang this up in the kitchen?

So when I got to work one day, I went to check out the new materials wall. And what did I see? “DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.1): Enlisted”. Needless to say I ran over to the book and grabbed it for myself.

The Goodreads summary doesn’t really do this justice, so here is mine. Set in an alternate universe, “Bombshells” is a WWII era historical fiction arc starring a whole lot of DC’s superheroines and supervillainesses. Various governments and groups start recruiting these women so they can fight for their countries, or the group’s motivations. You have Batwoman, an All American Girl’s Baseball League player who is recruited to be an American Spy. You have Wonder Woman, a Amazonian princess who meets WWII flier Steve Trevor when he crashes near her home, and she and her bestie Mera decide to bring him home, but get the attention of American forces. Supergirl and Stargirl are living in Soviet Russia, who are discovered to have serious powers that can be used as Soviet Propaganda. Zatanna is being pressured into working with the Joker’s Daughter in Berlin, standing aside helplessly as Joker’s Daughter gives the Nazis magical, zombie making powers. And then there’s Harley Quinn, who has forsaken her medical prowess in London and flies into France in search of her boyfriend, only to find Pamela Isley, a possible French Resistance Fighter.

Does this sound amazing? GOOD, BECAUSE IT IS!

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(source)

There are many things to like about this comic. First and foremost, the concept is super creative. The idea kind of sounds like an alternate universe fan fiction idea, but Marguerite Bennett’s writing makes it work so well. She takes a lot of things from WWII history, like the All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League, or the Soviet Night Witches, and gives them a very cool platform to bring them to the forefront while producing some really intriguing storylines. While I loved all of them, I think that the one of my favorites was definitely that of Supergirl and Stargirl, as the story not only talked about the Night Witches, it also showed the brutal regime that the Soviets had in spite of the fact they were our allies. The part that punched me in the gut the hardest was when Supergirl and Stargirl realize that they are supposed to be attacking a camp that, while disguised as a Nazi Camp, is actually a Soviet Prison camp, with political prisoners of all ages being held there. It was super ballsy to address that and to give these girls a serious moral dilemma. And I also liked the Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy storyline, because if it does go the way of the French Resistance, that would be super cool. The Resistance is getting more play in literature lately, between “Code Name Verity” and “All the Light We Cannot See”, so if it gets a fun story in this comic I will be very happy. The banter is also quite zippy and fun to read, and the dialogue feels natural and not stilted. I found it very feminist and woman centric without being heavy handed or on the nose.

Another aspect I liked is that through this story, DC is giving a lot of great fun and great opportunities to their lady characters. While I love DC guys a whole lot too, the fact that there was no sign of Batman, or Superman, or any of the other heavy hitters, was very refreshing. You see a couple guys, namely Lex Luthor and John Constantine. But Luthor is a fellow spy who is teamed up with Batwoman and Catwoman, and Constantine is more of a sidekick to Zatanna.

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Also, he’s been turned into a bunny (source).

Like I said, I like the men of DC. But honestly, if they start to come in and play a bigger part I will feel a little miffed. This is the time and the series to let the ladies shine.

And the story is just fun. I was screeching in glee as I read this volume, and actually had to put it down and run off to tell my husband about a certain cameo that appears late in the game. No spoiling it. But it was a hoot to see this character, even if it was for just a moment.

“Bombshells” is a fabulous series and I need Volume 2 yesterday. It isn’t coming out until September, so I am just going to have to wait, I guess. Probably not at all patiently.

Rating 10: This comic is everything. I had so much fun while reading it and I cannot wait for the next one. Fans of comics, WWII fiction, and kick ass ladies need to pick this one up!

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.1): Enlisted” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Comics by Women”, and “Amazons, Female Warriors, and Wonder Women”.

Find “DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.1): Enlisted” at your library using Worldcat!