Serena’s Review: “The Starless Sea”

43575115._sy475_Book: “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, November 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

Review: I had to do a double-take when I saw this book pop up on Edelweiss+. I was like, “I know that author! But…but is she finally publishing something new??” It’s been several years since “The Night Circus” was published. Long enough that I look fondly at the book on my shelf but hadn’t really thought to check up again on what the author was doing. This is not a complaint about the time taken between books. Some authors can pump them out seemingly one after another. But as it stands, Morgenstern can take all the time she wants if it means we keep seeing books like “The Night Circus” and now the wonder that is “The Starless Sea.”

Once upon a time there was a book. And in that book were stories. And in those stories were characters reading books. Too, there were doors. And through those doors more books, and characters reading those books. The story winds in and out, but this one begins with Zachary, a college graduate who once saw a door but chose not to open it. A simple moment, seemingly, until he discovers that same moment described in detail in a book he discovers in the library while conducting research. But his is only one among many stories contained with this book’s pages. And as he searches for answers, he finds that through that door that he didn’t take are a million other doors just waiting to be opened.

Books, authors, and readers have a strange, self-celebrating relationship. Readers love books. Some readers love them so much that they go out and write their own. Often about how much they love books. Other readers find those books and gain all the more pleasure from reading a book about characters who love reading books. And some readers go on to be librarians who like nothing more than stocking their shelves with books, especially those books that wax poetic about a love for reading, libraries, and, of course, books themselves. It’s all very “snake eating its own tail,” but in the best of ways possible. All of this to say: “The Starless Sea” is one of the most beautiful love letters to stories and books that I have ever read.

The book starts off slowly, with several seemingly unconnected stories coming one after another to the point that the reader may start to question whether they are reading a collection of tales or a novel. But soon enough Zachary’s story starts to come together and the pieces oh, so slowly begin to fall into place. It takes the entire book to get a full picture of what Morgenstern has accomplished here, which makes it all the more challenging to review. This is a nested-doll of a story and even now I feel that I might have missed some clues here and there.

The world itself is intricate, lush, and a bit spooky around the edges. Like Hogwarts is to many of us, the Starless Sea and its vast libraries are to readers. What reader doesn’t wish to live Zachary’s story? To open a door and find oneself part of a story? And if not that, I want to go there just to cozy up with the millions of books and the hundreds of cats wandering around (I mean, honestly, it’s like she wrote this book for me). There are details galore and half of the fun is simply wandering into the next scene alongside Zachary to see what marvels lay beneath the next. There are just enough strings holding it all together to make it feel connected and approachable. But I was still caught off guard again and again by the directions the story took in its many twists and turns.

There are two love stories at the heart of this book. One, a love that spans centuries, a story that keeps looking for its ending. And the other is Zachary’s. Each is beautiful in its way, one highlighting the testament of love over time and the other the connections that can be formed more quickly but still inspire the greatest of undertakings on each other’s behalf. Each was lovely in its own way, though given Zachary’s role in this book, his stood out all the more.

Like “The Night Circus,” this book highlights just how well-matched Morgenstern’s creativity is with her stylistic writing. In another author’s hands, some of these scenes could have come off as pretentious or grandiose, but her simple, yet delicate, manner of laying down words on a page makes them seem like just more magic to be discovered. As I said, the book builds slowly, and even towards the end when the action begins to pick up, Morgenstern still devotes a decent amount of page time to her descriptive settings and poetic observations. Readers who enjoyed her previous book will be pleased to see her talents put to work in another such story. Those looking for a faster-paced story might struggle a bit, however.

So close to the end of the year and with my “Top 10” on the mind, this was an instant winner for me. I think I would even go so far as to say that I preferred this book to “The Night Circus.” In many ways, that book now seems as if it was a primer, or simply Morgenstern testing the water, as she prepared for the tour de force that is “The Starless Sea.”

Rating 10: A love letter to stories and books that makes you wish for nothing more than to visit the Starless Sea yourself.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Starless Sea” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books with Underground Setting” and “Scifi/Fantasy for when you are feeling down.”

Find “The Starless Sea” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Burned House”

48575470._sy475_Book: “The Burned House” (Jonny Roberts #2) by Alexander Lound

Publishing Info: Self Published, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The author sent me an eARC

Book Description: Nearly a year after learning that he can speak to the dead, Jonny Roberts has spent much of his time working with his new medium friend, Aaron. Whether it’s reconnecting loved ones with dead relatives, or helping spirits to cross over, Jonny has been happy to help.

That is, until a young boy is found dead, his body impaled with floorboards, sharpened into knife points; and in the same house where a family died seven years earlier, in a tragic fire.

Suspecting that the event might be down to the supernatural, Aaron and Jonny soon investigate. But when the spirit makes it clear that it doesn’t intend to stop at the boy, they begin to wonder if this might be their most dangerous case yet…

Review: Thank you to Alexander Lound for approaching our blog and sending me an eARC of this book!

Halloween has long passed, but there’s always time for a ghost story as far as I’m concerned. So when Alexander Lound emailed me asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing the second book in the Jonny Roberts series, “The Burned House”, there was really only one way I could answer.

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Honestly I’m halfway convinced that all of my reactions to anything could be summed up by one of the Rose siblings. (source)

If you recall, I enjoyed the first in the series, “The Spirit in the Crypt” as I found it to be an engaging ghost story with likable characters and high stakes. Teenage medium Jonny Roberts is a fun protagonist, and I was eager to see where things went next for him and his girlfriend Cassy, as well as his medium mentor Aaron. Now that we’ve established Jonny as a full fledged medium, that meant that he’d have to delve deeper into his powers, and with that could mean upped stakes and higher tension. And boy oh boy did we go in both those directions.

In “The Burned House”, Jonny has started to come into his own as a medium, helping Aaron with various spirit cases, and while he and his girlfriend Cassy are still happy and in love, the tension with his ‘profession’ has started to come to the surface. And in this story, there is reason to believe that Cassy’s hesitance may be right, as Jonny and Aaron are soon entangled in the death of a boy, whose body was found in a house in which a family burned to death a few years prior. It soon becomes clear that it’s the work of an angry spirit, and the only insight they have is from the surviving family member, a teenage girl named Megan. Jonny, of course, wants to help, but the good intentions he has involve more and more risk. The story is basically Jonny potentially biting off more than he can chew, and how that threatens not only his life, but his relationships. I liked that Lound showed how someone with his abilities would potentially have a lot of difficulties with relationships with ‘normal’ people, and that you can understand why both he AND Cassy have legitimate reasons to feel the way they do about his new calling. It also means that we get some deliciously angsty scenes with teenagers. And as a teenager who was in love with her boyfriend and had to deal with some problems that felt earth shattering at the time, these scenes felt very, very true to life.

The mystery and motivation behind the angry spirit was well plotted out and fun to get through. I cracked the code early on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy to crack. I’ve just been reading these kinds of stories for years, so I know what to look for. And even though I guessed the outcome early, I still enjoyed the journey that we took to get to said outcome. Lound really does up the stakes this time around, with the looming threat of injury and death at the hands of an angry spirit a very real issue. And we don’t pussyfoot around what all of this could mean for Jonny and his friends; on the contrary, there is a very significant loss in this book, one that I didn’t see coming, and one that was a bit of a bummer. But no spoilers here. I just want to hit the point home that we are starting to see the consequences that Jonny has to contend with because he has decided to pursue being a medium.

“The Burned House” was a thrilling and fun follow up to “The Spirit in the Crypt”. It checks all of my favorite boxes of a ghost story and medium story, and I’m eager to see where Jonny Roberts goes next!

Rating 8: Another satisfying YA ghost story, “The Burned House” continues the adventures of Jonny Roberts, and shows the upped stakes that being a medium means, both physically and emotionally.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Burned House” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Novels and Psychic Abilities”, and “Young Adult Ghost Stories”.

“The Burned House” isn’t available on WorldCat as of now, but it will be available for purchase this week. For more information, go to Alexander Lound’s WEBSITE.

Previously Reviewed: “The Spirit in the Crypt”

Not Just Books: November 2019

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bndg1zjc4yzktmmrmzi00zwjmlwjiyzgtyjg3mme0otm1nzy5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_Amazon Show: “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” Season 2

I really enjoyed the first outing of this show and pretty much watched the second season immediately after it dropped. And I have…mixed feelings. On one hand, there’s no denying John Krasinski’s talent and screen presence. Indeed, I think this second season depends heavily on that fact for, in many ways, the Jack Ryan we’re seeing in this go around is very unlike the one of the first season. This Jack Ryan seems to have lost many of his boy scout ways and too often fades into just another generic action hero. His smarts and strong morals are often lost in a convoluted plot that doesn’t necessarily earn its twists. The villain is significantly weaker, in my opinion, and I think the idea to focus on a part of the world, Venezuela, that is less often seen in shows/movies like this was rather wasted by painting in too large (and predictable) black and white swathes. It also misrepresents some of the real-life political conflicts going on there. So, that’s a lot of negatives. But, like I said, I still really liked Krasinksi and the idea of the show as a whole, so I’ll still be checking in for season 3 and hoping for a return to its roots.

survivor_island_of_the_idols_logoTV Show: “Survivor”

Look, I wasn’t going to highlight this one, yet again. But after some of the recent episodes, I feel like I’ve spent enough time thinking about it and reading about it that it would be mispresenting my month of non-book-media NOT to put it in here. I was…very uncomfortable and disappointed to see the turn this show took in episode 8. There are so many variables in what went down in these #metoo related episodes, but while “Survivor” has long been known for pushing its players to make challenging moral decisions, what happened here I think crossed some important lines. Everyone involved failed: the producers of the show for allowing the situation to devolve to this point, the women who exploited it, the men who ignored it, and the man who, at the heart of it all, didn’t respect a woman’s wishes when she clearly asked him to respect her personal space. I won’t go into the full run down, but I think Dalton Ross over at EW.com did a good job of summarizing many of the angles, and while my own reaction is probably a bit more condemning of some involved, his might be the more balanced take.

220px-the_outer_worlds_cover_artVideo Game: “The Outer Worlds”

My husband and I rushed through finishing up our play through (and replay for me) of “Skyrim” so that we would have a clear slate when “The Outer Worlds” was released. Touted as being similar to “Fallout: New Vegas” but in space, this was an obvious game for us to dive into. We both like open world games where you feel like you can stumble upon new locations, characters, and quests around any corner. Beyond that, after playing through all of the “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls” games, it was a nice chance of pace to find ourselves in a brightly colored and wacky space setting. We’ve only just gotten started, so I can’t speak to how the main storyline plays out, but so far it’s been a fun ride. And at this point, that’s all I’m looking for!

Kate’s Picks

WatchmenTV Show: “Watchmen”

The graphic novel “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is one of my Top 3 favorite books of all time. I have stood by Moore’s distaste at DC using his characters in their new comic storylines, but I had to set aside my devotion to his grumpiness for the HBO show “Watchmen”. Because it’s fantastic. It brings the “Watchmen” universe to modern day Tulsa, expanding upon the alternate reality that Moore and Gibbons created and showing how that world has continued post Manhattan Squid attack. The focus is on Angela, a Tulsa detective who, like all other law enforcement officers in this world, has taken on a mask and persona to hide her identity. But soon she finds herself trying to crack down on a white supremacist movement, as well as a potential, insidious conspiracy that has been going on before her very eyes. This show brings in fabulous new characters, and brings some of the originals into the fold in creative and engaging ways. It also has a lot to say about our political world at the moment, even if it takes place in a different timeline. Frankly, it’s some of the best TV in the past few years.

castlerock10-590x332TV Show: “Castle Rock”

One of the most iconic Stephen King villain performances is hands down Kathy Bates as the obsessive and murderous Annie Wilkes from “Misery”. When I heard that for Season 2 “Castle Rock” was going to give a new backstory to Annie, I was skeptical as hell. But, like Season 1, “Castle Rock” has taken me in and has me hooked. Lizzy Caplan plays a young Annie, who has found herself, along with her daughter Joy, stranded in the mysterious Maine town. And like last season, strange things start happening. But for Annie, these strange things could easily be hallucinations brought on by her psychosis. Throw in a plot line in ‘Salem’s Lot, and some commentary about xenophobia and racism towards a Somali immigrant population, and you have a bonkers and powerful second season. And don’t worry; Caplan is PERFECT as a young Annie, both making it her own but also paying homage to Bates in her portrayal through posture, gait, and cadence. It’s a joy to see.

mv5bymy3ngjlytitymq4os00ztewlwizoditmjmznwu2mde0njzhxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzqzmda3mti40._v1_Film: “Doctor Sleep”

Given that “Doctor Sleep” is my favorite of Stephen King’s recent books, I was both anticipating and somewhat worrying about the adaptation that was going to hit the big screen. Given the weight that Kubrick’s version of “The Shining” has in the cinematic world, I was afraid that too much focus would be on an interpretation that King himself never cared for. I shouldn’t have been so worried. And given that Mike Flanagan, the director of the stellar “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix was at the helm, I should have been more excited. “Doctor Sleep” is a wonderful adaptation of the novel, with a fantastic cast, a moody tone, and the perfect melding of King’s original vision in both “Doctor Sleep” and “The Shining”, and the Kubrick interpretation that has been beloved for so long. Ewan McGregor is a wonderful Danny, bringing pathos and determination to the character, and Kyleigh Curran is the perfect Abra, the precocious psychic teen he befriends. But it’s Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat that really stole the show for me. Rose the Hat is a Top 3 King villain in my book, up there with Flagg and Annie Wilkes, and Ferguson brings her to sinister and charismatic life. If you were hesitant about this movie, don’t be. It’s wonderful, it’s emotional, and it’s scary.

What non-book media were highlights for you this month? Share in the comments below!

Serena’s Review: “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”

22733729Book: “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers

Publishing Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, July 2014

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

Book Description: Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

Review:  One of my librarian friends recommended this book a few years ago, so I had dutifully added it to my TBR list. And there it sat. But recently I was finding myself in the mood of a sci fi read, realizing I hadn’t read and reviewed a book in that genre for quite a while, and while browsing, there it was! I was able to nab an audiobook copy from the library, and I was off!

Rosemary is running from her past. And what better place to forget where she came from than a ship that travels to the outer reaches of space itself. Staffed by an odd assortment of crew made up of a diverse species and peoples, Rosemary soon learns that life on this ship is not like ordinary space travel. There is more danger to be sure, but she also finds that through these adventures and close calls, the bonds that form between this oddball family can be stronger than anything she’s known before.

I’ll admit to having a hard time with this book, but it’s for a reason that is pretty new to me. For all that every book is different and each reading experience offers something new, I can definitely point to some typical things that throw me out of a story: nonsense characters, love triangles, predictable plots trying to be pretentious. But this was a new one for me. This book was just too…nice. Obviously, with a complaint like that, there are also a lot of pros to talk about, too, so let me cover those first before trying to explain myself.

First things first, the story largely depends on its cast of characters that make up the crew. I appreciated the diversity that the author brought to this group. Not only did she create original alien species who are all physically unique from humans, but they each had distinct cultures with differing approaches to communication, relationships, food, and many other aspects of life. One of the more interesting aspects of the book was exploring the ins and outs of each of these distinct characters and learning more about how their species differs from humanity. Several of them were simply entertaining, with quippy dialogue and fun interactions. However, these fun characters did ultimately end up washing out Rosemary herself. She quickly felt more like the readers point of entrance into the story and very little else.

The problems with the “niceness” start here, too. In some ways, this book reminds me of what “Star Trek” set out to do: to show an idealized future where most of humanity’s internal conflict has been set to rest and exploration and understanding are the sole mission. Here, while humanity as a whole does not have its act together, the crew largely does. It’s a weird thing to complain about, but there simply wasn’t enough conflict. I don’t need tons of drama or in-fighting or anything, but the story seemed to lack tension.

The crew fly in and out of a variety of adventures, and while some aspects of these were thrilling enough on their own, the crew’s seemingly perfect “woke” attitude about it all became almost tiring. It was hard to continue to read them all as fully realized characters when there were very few, if any, flaws in sight. This leaves the characters with very few emotional arcs of their own. The quippy-ness, while fun at the beginning, quickly began to feel cutesy and disingenuous.

This book has been compared to “Firefly” and I would add “Star Trek” to that mix. But what both of those shows got right was that these tight knit families of crew members were pulled together in spite of their ongoing flaws, not because they simply didn’t have any. Like I said, it’s a weird complaint. In the end, I guess I was just looking for a bit more of a serious sci-fi read and this one was too light for my own taste. Readers who want a fun, beach-read-style sci-fi story might enjoy this more.

Rating 6: While fun enough at times, there simply wasn’t enough real conflict or tension to really sink my teeth into the book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” is on these Goodreads lists: “Optimistic Space Scifi” and “Alien Diplomacy and Interspecies Friendship.”

Find “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Whisper Network”

41555931._sy475_Book: “Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Four women learn their boss (a man who’s always been surrounded by rumors about how he treats women) is next in line to be CEO—what will happen when they decide enough is enough?

Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are four women who have worked at Truviv, Inc., for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Ames is a complicated man, a man they’ve all known for a long time, a man who’s always been surrounded by…whispers. Whispers that have always been ignored by those in charge. But the world has changed, and the women are watching Ames’s latest promotion differently. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough.

Sloane and her colleagues set in motion a catastrophic shift within every floor and department of the Truviv offices. All four women’s lives—as women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversaries—will change dramatically as a result.

“If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one, “none of this would have happened.”

Review: When my husband and I first brought our daughter home, we had to adjust to spending more time at the house and finding ways to spend the evenings when we weren’t directly caring for the kiddo. One of those ways was to watch “Mad Men” on Netflix, a show that neither of us watched when it was on originally but had been on our lists. I think that both of us were struck and angered by the casual misogyny that a number of the women characters experienced during the course of the show, both at home and at work. Around this time I also got the book “Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker, a Reese’s Book Club pick that had a pretty long hold list at the library. As I read “Whisper Network” I kept thinking about “Mad Men” and how the women at the ad agency had to deal with terrible, abusive men. It wasn’t lost on me that the similarities were incredibly high, even though fifty some years had passed between the timelines in which the characters from both stories were living. Goes to show that while in a number of ways we’ve progressed in terms of women in the work force, some things stay the same, and boy does that rile me up.

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A phrase I’ve related to so many times in the past few years. (source)

“Whisper Network” has been described as a #MeToo story, though the themes have been present long before the movement. Our protagonists, Sloane, Ardie, and Grace all work in the legal department at a high powered corporation, and all of them have had run ins of varying degrees with the soon to be new CEO Ames Garrett. Ames is a well liked member of the company’s corporate boys club, and while he seems to be a shoe in for the position his abusive and harassing tendencies have been swept under the rug. Sloane, Ardie, and Grace are all competent and capable women, and as of now have kept their mouths shut when it comes to their experiences with Ames because they don’t necessarily think that tangling with him directly would be worth it. It’s when a new employee, the young and seemingly naive Katherine, enters the mix that they think perhaps they need to speak up, lest Ames set his predatory sights on her. What comes next involves lies, deception, back stabbing, and an untimely death that Sloane, Ardie, and Grace are blamed for because they decided to speak up. Baker does a really good job of addressing how sometimes victims of harassment, especially if the accused is seen as ‘likable’, can be demonized and vilified for speaking of their experiences. Some of the most effective moments of this were told through ‘witness’ interviews after the main incident, where coworkers, male and female alike, are questioning the veracity of the accusations, and also questioning the stability or motivations of those who have spoken out. It’s angering to read in its realism.

The mystery of “Whisper Network” is pretty straightforward (what really happened to the victim we see at the beginning), though I didn’t really find myself too invested in the solution to it. I was more invested in what was going to happen to those who were left behind as the fallout comes crashing down. I was also more invested in Sloane, Grace, and Ardie getting justice for what had happened to them at the hands of an abusive boss, and at the hands of those who don’t believe them and try to drag their names through the mud. None of the characters really stood out for me, but were all likable enough and relatable enough that I did care about them and how things worked out once the book was done. The character that I liked the most, however, was Rosalita, a night cleaning lady at the company who doesn’t have the same privileges as our main three, and who has her own story to tell, or not tell as the case may be. I liked how Baker brought in a bit of intersectionality when it comes to this #MeToo story, as unlike other characters Rosalita doesn’t have the class privilege they do, and as a woman of color she has more reasons to stay quiet against a powerful white man. I think that Baker could have done more with this, as to me it was the most interesting component to the story.

“Whisper Network” will probably anger you as you read it, but it’s a story that has resonance as the spotlight of #MeToo continues to highlight misogyny and sexual harassment in our culture. The mystery comes second to the social commentary, but it’s still an entertaining page turner.

Rating 7: A #MeToo story with a slow burn mystery, “Whisper Network” is a relevant and upsetting tale of work place harassment and how victims can be unfairly punished for speaking out against powerful harassers.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper Network” is included on the Goodreads lists “MeToo”, and “ATY 2020 – Books Related to News Stories”.

Find “Whisper Network” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Sisters of Shadow and Light”

9781250208408_8e486Book: “Sisters of Shadow and Light” by Sara B. Larson

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, November 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: “The night my sister was born, the stars died and were reborn in her eyes…”.

Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the Citadel of the Paladins, an abandoned fortress where legendary, magical warriors once lived before disappearing from the world―including their Paladin father the night Inara was born.

On that same night, a massive, magical hedge grew and imprisoned them within the citadel. Inara inherited their father’s Paladin power; her eyes glow blue and she is able to make plants grow at unbelievable rates, but she has been trapped in her own mind because of a “roar” that drowns everything else out―leaving Zuhra virtually alone with their emotionally broken human mother.

For fifteen years they have lived, trapped in the citadel, with little contact from the outside world…until the day a stranger passes through the hedge, and everything changes.

Review: I highlighted this book as one I was looking forward to reading this month. I had requested it based on the fact that it seemed to be a YA fantasy that centered around a relationship between sisters, a pretty basic plot that I typically enjoy. Unfortunately, while it does deliver on the elements that drew me to it originally, there wasn’t enough else to keep me invested, and a few too many YA tropes that induced eyerolls.

Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the wreckage of what was once a great power in the world. Locked in a fortress and surrounded by a sentient hedge that keeps out all others, the two sisters have grown up isolated from the world with only their fragile mother as a connection to not only their origins but also the world outside the walls. Inara is isolated even further by a power that manifests itself in ways that produce great effects but also cut her off from the world outside her own mind. But the world has continued to move outside their small home, and one day it breaks in, bringing new faces and new challenges.

While this book wasn’t for me, I do, as always, want to start with the things I did appreciate. I requested this book based on my love for sister stories, and luckily for me, that was the aspect of the story that was the strongest throughout. There was a clear, consistent bond between the two from start to finish, without any delving into melodrama or cattiness. We start out the story with only Zuhra’s POV, so there was a lot of time spent setting up how she view the relationship between herself and her sister, who is very cutoff from those around her. This was all well and good. But this aspect of the story was greatly strengthened when, about a third of the way in, we’re given Inara’s perspective as well. Having both POVs really fleshed out the nuances of their relationship, and while I did struggle with much of the rest of the book, I did still enjoy this portion of the story throughout.

Alas, much of the rest of it wasn’t as much of a hit. For me, part of the problem was how similar this read felt to “Strange the Dreamer.” The set up of siblings, some with magical abilities, growing up isolated from the world in the husk of a place that used to belong to god-like beings, one of whom was the father of said siblings? It’s pretty identical. And “Strange the Dreamer” was a superb book, so it’s rare that a direct comparison like this is going to go well for another book. Had I read this one without that one in mind, perhaps some things would have been better received. But that’s also the world of books: readers will always approach stories in the context of what they’ve read before. This can be a good or bad thing; unfortunately, here it was a bad thing. While the elements were similar, they were noticably weaker than Laini Taylor’s similar set-up.

While I liked the sister relationship between our two main characters, I still never really connected to either of them as wholly realized characters on their own. Zuhra, in particularly, was hard to identify with, especially in the beginning when we are left with only her perspective. Both sisters fell into the unfortunate trap of immediately going googly-eyed over the first boys they see, which felt not only silly, but also undermined some of the strengths we had been told they possess, having grown up needing to be so self-reliant.

The world and plot suffered from a writing style that erred more towards telling rather than showing. The middle of the book especially dragged, which I find is often a problem with this style of writing. When you have a new world to introduced, it’s easier for a “tell vs show” style to go unnoticed amid all of the new things being thrown at the reader. And the end typically has enough action when building to the climax of the story to also get away with it. But the middle is where it always shows up, and it was just as true here as in other books with a similar writing issue.

There were some good ideas in this book, and I did enjoy the sister relationship. I was able to predict a few of the twists, but one or two did actually catch me by surprise. However, all of that was not enough to pull the book through. The characters fell into a few too many YA “boy crazy” tropes, the world and plot were a bit on the limp side, and the style of writing was particularly captivating. Not to say that this book should be written off anyone’s list full-stop. But I do think there are betters versions of it out there.

Rating 6: An OK read, but one that felt flat and dim in comparison to its contemporaries.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Sisters of Shadow and Light” can be found on this Goodreads list: “We Fire the Darkness And Flame At Night.”

Find “Sisters of Shadow and Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Giant Days (Vol.1)”

25785993Book: “Giant Days (Vol.1)” by John Allison & Lissa Treiman (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Box, December 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of handwringing boys, “personal experimentation,” influenza, mystery-mold, nu-chauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of “academia,” they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive. Going off to university is always a time of change and growth, but for Esther, Susan, and Daisy, things are about to get a little weird.

Review: I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I look back at my time in college and get overwhelmed with a massive wave of nostalgia. I really came into my own in college, I made friendships that I cherish to this day, and I have lots of fond memories of the various misadventures my friend group and I got into while on and around campus. When my friend and fellow librarian Jenny told me about “Giant Days”, I looked into it and knew that it was something I definitely wanted to check out. A university setting starring quirky and snarky girls could be a bit of a gamble for me (given that TOO quirky can put me off), but I trusted Jenny, and requested the first volume of the series. And boy oh boy, did I immediately miss college.

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Let me take this moment to say GO GOPHERS! (source)

“Giant Days (Vol.1)” is more of a collection of vignettes as opposed to a large, overarching plot at this point, and said vignettes focus on three unlikely friends just starting out at University. There’s Susan, an ill tempered and cynical tomboy who puts on a tough facade even though she’s actually fairly sensitive. There’s Esther, a dramatic and emotional beauty who is goth to the core and rather impetuous. And finally there’s Daisy, the sweet and somewhat naive kind soul who is loyal and hard working. They all share a dorm, and while they seem like they wouldn’t get along, it’s their differences that make them totally suited for each other. They find themselves dealing with a new home, the flu, perverted boys, and the ups and downs of romance, usually with very snide and hilarious results. Author John Allison is certain to make all three of the characters flawed and awkward as they try to navigate their new path, and is never unkind towards them, even when putting their sometimes bad behavior on display. Their banter and their interactions made me smile and laugh a large number of times, and it felt refreshing to see a college story focusing on predominantly women characters and the foolish shenanigans that they get into. I feel like that’s afforded far more often to dudes, and seeing some of the bullshit that Susan, Esther, and Daisy get into made me think of the lady friends I had in college and some of the dumb things we did. All of them are relatable and fun to follow, and super easy to root for even when they’re being ridiculous.

As I mentioned above, as of now “Giant Days” is mostly separate vignettes, though the stories have had some overlap between each other. One segment would focus on a specific arc, then the next segment would be a different arc that might have been hinted at in segment one. I liked that it meant that they could stand on their own, and then we could go into a fresh story with new possibilities and stakes. It also meant that each of our three main characters got to deal with the conflict of the segment in their own ways, and got basically equal time to navigate the plot (the only example I can think of where this wasn’t necessarily the case was when Esther ended up on a ‘hot or not’ website run by a bunch of cretins, but even then we saw how Susan and Daisy reacted as well). I am curious to see if this format continues into the later volumes, or if larger plot starts to form. As of now, I like the vignettes, but I don’t know how long my investment would hold if it continued.

Finally, I really REALLY love the artwork by Lissa Treiman! She has done work for a number of recent Disney movies, and you can definitely see the similarities between those styles and the ones you see in this. It makes for very vibrant and expressive faces and designs, and part of the humor comes from the imagery.

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(source)

“Giant Days (Vol.1)” is a fun and humorous read, and those of you who are feeling extra nostalgic for friendships from your formative years will find so much to like here. I’m definitely going to continue on with this series, because I can’t get enough of Susan, Esther, and Daisy.

Rating 8: A snarky and witty graphic novel involving three irreverent college women, “Giant Days (Vol.1)” will make you nostalgic for college, and will remind you of the joys of friendships in your young adult years.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Giant Days (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Read Comics”, and “Female Power Comics”.

Find “Giant Days (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!