Joint Review: “The Belles”

23197837Book: “The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Bookish First; an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Kate’s Review:

Many thanks to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this novel!

My first experience with Dhonielle Clayton was the sudsy and dramatic “Tiny Pretty Things” duology that she wrote with Sona Charaipotra. While I loved the first book in that series, I was left cold by the second. But when I heard that Clayton was writing a fantasy series on her own, I knew that I would absolutely need to get my hands on it. I know that I say that fantasy isn’t really my wheelhouse, I do have exceptions, and this kind of fantasy (other worldly dystopia/utopia) absolutely falls into that category. I sat down and read “The Belles” in one day, absolutely taken in by this amazing fantasy world that Clayton created.

And oh my gosh, so many FASHION DESCRIPTIONS. I have no style, but I love fashion.

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Sashay shanté, bitches. (source)

Orléans  is unlike any other fantasy world that I have seen in a very long time. It has certain similarities with our world, feeling like a combination of French Revolution era societal castes and factions, and yet with magic and grand technologies dispersed throughout it. The Belles, women who have descended from the Goddess of Beauty, have magic flowing through them that allows them to create beauty with various tools and powers that they have. The mortals of Orléans have been cursed with a distinct lack of beauty and grace (the mythology is indeed explained), and the Belles are the only ones who can help them. I greatly enjoyed Camellia’s moral journey as a Belle. She starts wanting to be the very best, to be picked as the Favorite of the Royal Court and to live with them, just as her mother had. But as she starts to live that life, she starts to change, as realities that she has never seen start to become all too real. The way that she changed and met those changes was very fascinating, and hers was a complex and interesting perspective to follow.

The other characters in this book are all very well done as well. Though we only see the events through Camellia’s eyes, I feel like I got a good hold on the supporting ones too and what their motivations were. I greatly enjoyed one of the other Belles named Edel, whose inherent need to rebel and question her life as a Belle was a small, but telling, theme about how different people function within this opulent world. There are different ways that the characters in this book fit into the complicated society, and I was impressed and genuinely horrified by how willing Clayton was to go into disturbing and dark situations to show the dangerous side of a beauty obsessed and power imbalanced culture. Keep an eye out for Princess Sofia. If you want a really screwy and messed up villain in your YA fantasy, she is exactly what you’re looking for.

I really enjoyed “The Belles” and am waiting for the second book on pins and needles.

Serena’s Review:

I had never read any books by Dhonielle Clayton before this, but the intriguing book description alone was enough to convince me this was one to check out. The fact that Kate was also interested was also a plus, since she’s not a huge reader of fantasy, so when there’s one that appeals to her as well, than I’m usually pretty curious!

The thing that stands out about it the most to me was the world-building and descriptions of the beauty that make up the lives of those able to afford such luxuries. The fact that this beauty is also tied to the world’s creation story and is a tangible part of their lives further cemented it as an intriguing concept. What could have read as a fairly superficial fantasy world was instead fully realized and complex, using beauty as not only the primary aspect of the magical system itself but a commentary on what is important to the people in this world. But the simplistic moralizing that one would expect , obsession with physical beauty is superficial and bad, is complicated by the very real implication of the beings peopling this world. Not only do they become physically less beautiful, with grey skin and red eyes, but it is mentioned that insanity also comes for those who fall too far into this “natural” state. I loved the added layers given to this, as, like I said, this could have ended up with a very simple and trite message.

Instead, much of the arc was devoted to Camellia’s growth as a character. Yes, obsession with physical beauty is discussed. But for Camellia, much of her story is that of a young woman who is just beginning to live the life that she’s dreamed of and realizing that it might be very different than she had expected. She’s a typical teenage girl in many ways, struggling with jealousy, self-care, and establishing her own boundaries. Throughout the story, we see her fight with her instincts to please those around her versus do what she knows to be right. Further, this growth comes slowly and steadily, reading as a more natural progression and thus highly relatable to teenage girls. The pressure is real, as are the consequences, and remaining true to your own judgements is never a straight forward path.

I also loved how dark this book was, and I was surprised by the quality of the villain who was presented. The same detailed and extravagant writing that goes into illustrating all of the beauty that makes up this world was put to just as good of use when drawing up the truly terrifying future that now looms by the end of this book.

All in all, I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It was easy to read the concept and dismiss it as a kind of silly fluff-fantasy that was going to preach an all too familiar message about the “beauty within.” But nope! This is definitely one worth checking out!

Kate’s Rating 8: A sumptuous and unique tale about a gilded society and the darkness behind, and cost of, outer beauty. The characters were all well done and the world Clayton built was wonderfully crafted.

Serena’s Rating 8: A surprising read that avoids the easy and expected messages while still focusing on what’s important. Strong characters, beautiful descriptions, and villain to give you the creeps! Everything you want from YA fantasy fiction!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Belles” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Fashion Dystopia” and “YA Heroines of Colour.”

Find “The Belles” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Scythe”

28954189We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. 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 a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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: “Scythe” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Giveaway from ALA 2017!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 600s (Medicine and Technology)

Book Description: Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Kate’s Thoughts

This book had been on my list but had never quite made it to my pile, so imagine my delight when Serena picked it for book club! I love Shusterman and his writing, and the premise itself is just like catnip to me. A future where people have conquered death, but still have to cull the population somehow, so they recruit ‘Scythes’ to do it? YES YES YES!

And it really lived up to my hopes and dreams and expectations. I liked that Shusterman thought outside the box for this book, giving us less dystopia and more utopia, but with the consequences a utopia would have. The idea that a person can regenerate to their younger physical self while maintaining everything else in their life is rich with possibilities, and I feel like Shusterman really did a good job of world building. From the Thunderhead to the small cultural things (like ‘splatting’, which sounds like the planking fad but with jumping off buildings because you can be rebuilt), he really made something that I wanted to explore to its limits.

I also really loved the characters. You have your veteran Scythes, Curie and Farraday, who both have their own approaches to ‘gleaming’, the process where they remove people from the population by killing them. Both Farraday and Curie end up as two of the mentors to our protagonists, Citra and Rowan, and their philosophies show that great care and reflection can be taken towards their jobs. An overarching theme in this is that people who are Scythes don’t want the job, and because they don’t want the job means they are the ones who should do the job. Both Farraday and Curie have these deep emotional moments surrounding that philosophy, and they were very likable and incredibly poignant. Between our protagonists I liked Citra more, but I think that’s because her arc was more about finding that balance between the job they must do, and how they can do it in the most thoughtful way possible. Rowan fell into a more used trope, as he is ultimately trained by a renegade Scythe named Goddard whose love for Scything is deeply disturbing, and his methods reflect that. I liked Rowan, I especially liked him with Citra, but where he ends up and where it looks like he’s going to go is less interesting because I feel like, as of now, we’ve seen it before.

I will say, though, that their relationship and their innate pull towards each other is going to make for a VERY interesting path in future books.

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Frankly, I’m hoping for a Veronica/JD from “Heathers” dynamic. (source)

Speaking of, I cannot wait for “Thunderhead” to come out. I’m so far down the list at the library, but oh MAN will it be worth it!

Serena’s Thoughts

I chose this book for bookclub even though I had already read (and reviewed) it. But that’s how much I enjoyed it! And it fit perfectly with my designated Dewey section which had a focus on medicine and technology. The whole story is about the effects that a perfected medical system, one that allows everyone to live forever, has on society. And for technology, we have the Thunderhead, the seemingly neutral AI that directs much of this world’s systems.

I won’t recap my entire previous review, but much of what I said then remained true in my appreciation of the book a second time. The sheer scope of creativity and attention to detail is what makes this world stand out as so fully realized and believable. Every minute aspect of society is touched by this one essential change. Without death, how would family life change? How would one approach day-to-day things like going to work or school? Would our friendships and marriages remain the same when the people we are befriending and marrying will now likely be around for centuries and “to death do us part” means a whole new thing?

Shusterman succeeds in one of the most challenging aspects of writing a dystopia/utopia storyline. Reading books like “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” it’s immediately clear to the reader that these worlds are terrible and it’s often confusing to see how they got to be where they ended up. How were people on board with that very first Hunger Games system where their children died? How did that overly complicated and nonsensically limited system of dividing people ever even get traction in “Divergent?” But here, it’s so easy to see how the world could end up in this place. Per Shusterman’s goal, the question can still be posed about whether this is a utopia OR a dystopia? Life seems pretty good for most of society and the steps that would move the world in that direction are easy enough to spot even today!

The second book has the rather ominous title of “Thunderhead,” so I’m excited to see where he is taking the series next. Will more of the curtain be pulled back and reveal a nasty underbelly to this seemingly well-ordered world? Is the Thunderhead truly a benevolent system? I’m excited to find out!

If you’d like to read my full, original review, here it is.

Kate’s Rating 9: Such a creative and engrossing novel! I love the characters and the world that Shusterman created, and cannot wait to see what happens next.

Serena’s Rating 9: I loved it just as much reading it again six months later! So much so that I went ahead and pre-ordered the sequel that is coming out any day now.

Book Club Questions

  1. Shusterman set out with the goal to write a true utopia. Did he succeed? Would you want to live in this world? Are there aspects that appeal to you and others that seem particularly challenging?
  2. There are a lot of advances to medicine and technology presented in this book. Do any of them seem more plausible or likely to be invented? Any that are unbelievable?
  3. Between Citra and Rowan, were you more drawn to one or the other’s character and story? Which one and why?
  4. We are presented with several different approaches to performing the work of a Scythe. Did any particular approach stand out to you? What are you thoughts on the various method of culling that are used? Are any more or less ethical?
  5. The Thunderhead is presented as a benevolent AI and plays an unexpected role in this story. What did you make of it? Any predictions, given the next book is titled after it?
  6. If you were a Scythe, what name would you choose for yourself and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scythe” is on these Goodreads lists: “Fiction Books About Grief, Death and Loss” and “Grim Reaper Books.”

Find “Scythe” at your library using WorldCat

Next Book Club Pick: “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale

Book Club Review: “Every You, Every Me”

9972838We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. 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 a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2011

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 700s (The Arts)

Book Description: In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he’s been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan’s starting to believe it’s Ariel that’s behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself. Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

Kate’s Thoughts

“Every You, Every Me” was my choice for Book Club this time around, and it was my gut reaction when I got the 700s (aka The ARTS!) of the Dewey Call Numbers. I knew that this book was written by David Levithan, but that the photos that were interspersed throughout the book were taken by Jonathan Farmer and given to Levithan as he was writing the story. Levithan wouldn’t know what the next photo would be, and then would have to fit it into the narrative. The concept of this was a fascinating one to me, and I thought that the photos angle fit into the Dewey theme. I haven’t had a lot of luck with ‘concept’ novels such as these, as I was one of those folks who didn’t absolutely adore “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and decided to give a hard pass to the “Asylum” series. But my reasoning was that hey, it’s David Levithan.

That said, this wasn’t the thrilling mystery with appropriate and aching teen pathos that I had hoped it would be. There was a great idea here, and glimmers of that idea shined through from time to time, but all in all I felt that “Every You, Every Me” never quite evolved beyond a concept. Evan is our narrator, and he is telling this story through stream of consciousness diary entries and through the photos that he is receiving from an anonymous source. He is set up as an unreliable narrator from the jump, with parts of his diary entries crossed out (but not enough that the reader can’t read the redacted thoughts). It was a little heavy on the crossing out, but I felt that it was a fairly effective way of showing his personal struggles instead of him literally saying ‘I AM CONFLICTED ABOUT ALL OF THIS AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL OR WHAT ROLE I PLAYED’. Evan himself was both interesting and maddening. Maddening in that goodness gracious was he the epitome of emo teen angst kid, so much so that our book club joked about how much My Chemical Romance and Evanescence would be on his iPod.

Fun Fact, a playlist of his favorite songs was officially created by our book club member Anita. See the bottom of this post to access it.

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(source)

But along with Evan being so hopelessly angsty, he was also very fascinating as a character, mostly because I felt that Levithan did a VERY good job of portraying the mind of someone who has gone through a very upsetting trauma. No deep spoilers here, but what I will say is that Evan has lost his closest friend Ariel, and he thinks that it is all his fault. While Evan is the narrator and protagonist, this story is really about the mysterious Ariel; who she was, how she was, and where she has gone (which is the main mystery of this book). They have a deep and codependent friendship, and the more you learn about Ariel and how she treated Evan, the more, I think, you get to understand why he is so, so warped and moody in this whole thing. I definitely found Evan to be more sympathetic as time went on, but also stopped caring about what happened to Ariel and who is harassing Evan BECAUSE my opinions of Ariel changed so much. Which is a bit callous of me, within the context of the book, but the sheer manipulation within that relationship just made me uncomfortable and angry and uncaring towards her endgame.

The ending, though. Again, I don’t want to go into deep deep spoilers here, but it felt so tacked on and so clunky that it kind of threw the book off kilter for me. I know that it kind of harkens back to one of the bigger themes in this book (i.e. no one really knows every side of a person), but it almost felt a bit TOO unrealistic in how it all played out. I’m fine with a huge twist coming through, but I want at least SOME groundwork for that twist to be laid out.

So while I was kind of disappointed with “Every You, Every Me”, I did like the characterization that Levithan created for his main players. The concept is unique enough that I would say pick it up just to see how this neat writing exercise turned out, but don’t expect to be super blown away by it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have read a few David Levithan books before this one and have mostly enjoyed them. He is particularly strong at writing believably complex teenage protagonists who are not only relatable to teens themselves, but also to adult readers. Other than this knowledge of the author, all I knew about this book was a vague understanding of it being a concept book with the photographs being sent to him as he wrote the book. I, like Kate, have never particularly loved the concept books I’ve read in the past. Too often I feel that the author ends up relying on the images to depict much of the drama of their story, thus paying less attention to, or becoming simply lazy with, their own written descriptions. Powerful writing doesn’t need the support of photographs, and while they can serve as a nice backdrop, I don’t love the idea of a story becoming dependent on them.

For the most part, I think that Levithan walked a nice line with the art in this book. The photographs were interesting and he managed to (mostly) tie them in nicely with the overarching plot of the book. There’s a great theme of what it means to know someone that runs throughout the story, and this concept ties neatly with a conversation that seems to always swirl around the small glimpses of a person that are caught in specific photographs. I loved this idea, that like photographs, we’re only ever seeing small glimpses of an entire person. And that another person (another photograph) will see/capture an entirely different side of that individual. These themes were probably my favorite part of this book.

Other than this, I did struggle with the story. Evan is not the type of narrator that typically appeals to me. He’s conflicted and self-questioning to the point that his angst and confusion are more off-putting than sympathetic. I wanted to shake him at multiple times during the story, and frankly had a hard time taking him seriously. As we learn the truth behind his concerns, I could better understand his reasons for feeling the way he does. But that doesn’t wave away the execution of those feelings that presents him as a whiny, overly emotional teen boy who is hard to invest oneself in.

Further, I was not a fan of the crossing out text tool that was used so much in this book. Not only did it negatively play into the already annoyingly self-involved angst machine that was Evan, but at many points in the story the basic function of cross out text seemed to be misunderstood. In some ways, yes, it makes sense for a story like this with a semi-unreliable narrator like Evan to cross out some parts of the text and through these reconsidered aspects of his writing, get a better understanding of his thoughts and character. But at times, especially towards the end of the book, huge sections of the story were crossed out and the format was being used more to indicate a flashback than to highlight a questioned thought of Evan’s. I think the format read as a bit pretentious, and by the end of the story, I was so distracted by it and how it was being used that it was actively throwing me out of the story.

I also agree with Kate about the ending. Without spoiling anything, the explanation of the photographs seemed to come out of left field and a lot of hand waving and hoop jumping was done to explain portions of the mystery. It felt tacked on and unearned.

Lastly, as this entire mystery revolves around Ariel, we learn a lot about her and need to understand the role that she played to all of these friends, specifically Evan, who are all so distressed by her loss. And, like the character of Evan, I couldn’t really get behind the appeal of Ariel. At Book Club, we all had a bit too much fun coming up with all the crazy explanations for why all of these characters seemed so obsessed with Ariel. None of our explanations were favorable to her.

Ultimately, I think this book touched on some very important themes, specifically those having to do with the fact that people are made up of multitudes and that no one person can ever fully know another. But the execution was shoddy with the crossed out text, and Ariel and Evan were pretty unlikable all around. Add to that the fact that this isn’t a favorite genre of mine (no fault of the book’s), and I didn’t end up loving this one. Alas, they can’t all be winners!

Kate’s Rating 6: A fascinating premise with some interesting things to say about trauma and loss, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. Add in a clunky solution and you have an okay book, when it could have been a great one.

Serena’s Rating 5: Good themes were bogged down by the restrictions of the concept art, an angst-fest leading character, and a dud of an ending.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the device of the photographs that was used in this book? Did you feel that Levithan did a good job of incorporating the random photos he received into this story? Do you think this story needed the photos to feel fully realized?
  2. Evan is our protagonist, and his relationship with Ariel is the crux of this book. What did you think of him as a narrator? How did you feel about him at the end vs at the beginning?
  3. One of the big mysteries of this book is where Ariel is and what happened to her. Were you invested in this mystery, and invested in Ariel as a character?
  4. Another theme of this book is that people tend to have different sides of them that they present to different people. Could you relate to this concept? Do you have different sides of yourself that different people see?
  5. SPOILERS: Let’s talk about the ending. What did you think of the reveal of Dawn, Ariel’s secret best friend that Evan and Jack didn’t know about, being the one sending the photos?
  6. This is what one might call a concept novel, using photos to drive and tell a story as they are presented. What are your opinions on this kind of book (similar to Miss Peregrine, or Asylum, etc)? Did EVERY YOU EVERY ME confirm those feelings, or buck them (in whichever way that may be)?

Reader’s Advisory

“Every You, Every Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Involving Mental Health Issues (2000s-Present)”, and “YA Books With Pictures”.

Find “Every You, Every Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper

And now…. the aforementioned playlist! Thanks to Katie, Alicia, and Anita who helped compile the list, and to Anita for putting it together!

 

What’s That Under The Bed: Childhood Fears

Given that it’s the Halloween Season and some of us may have spooky and creepy things on our minds, we thought that it would be fun to revisit the books and media that scared us as children. Sometimes looking back at childhood fears can be funny and cute, and other times it just reinforces the fact that these things are freakin’ scary at any age.

Serena’s Fears

1518699“The Ankle Grabber” by Rose Impey

Yes, mine is literally a book about scary things under a bed. But this book was truly traumatic, and a bunch of reviews on the books’ Goodreads page back me up on this. I didn’t even remember this book until we started brainstorming this blog post, apparently having successfully blocked it from my mind like all other traumatizing memories. So…thanks blog, for that! Supposedly, this story is supposed to help kids conquer their fears of the dark and things under the bed, but the pictures! The pictures were so creepy that it did just the opposite, ensuring that I took a running leap to my bed for years. For some reason, I kept re-reading to this book in some type of masochistic ritual throughout my childhood. It got so bad that my mom got some type of air freshener can, created a funny paper logo that she wrapped around it that said “Scary Stuff,” and convinced my sister and I to spray it around our room at night and that would someone chase of the Ankle Grabber.

95f6aaede63e86d5131fedb74111b52d“The Tale of the Dollmaker” (TV episode from “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”)

As any kid who watched early 90s TV knows, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” wasn’t messing around with its “horror stories for kids” concept. I mean, the “for kids” portion is really questionable, in my opinion. I could probably rattle off 10 episodes from this show that were scary as hell, but the one that always stood out was “The Tale of the Dollmaker” in which a cursed dollhouse traps little girls and slowly turns them into porcelain dolls. Throughout the episode, we see one of the girls, Susan, slowly lose her ability to talk and move as her body turns to porcelain. She almost loses an arm when her porcelain body breaks from too much movement. This of course lead my crazed, overly imaginative mind to begin fearing that if I sat still too long I’d start to turn to porcelain or stone or something. And as a kid who read a lot, a very stationary activity, this was a concern that popped into my brain more often than I would care to admit. I would be holding my book and literally start worrying that my arms were somehow firming up….

gooey_gus“Gooey Gus” (TV episode from “Ghost Writer”

Look at that thing?!?! What’s not to be afraid of?? The story is simple enough, Ghooey Gus is an evil toy that systematically attacks and goos to death every kid he comes in contact with. The fact that the goo tastes like bubble gum somehow made the whole thing worse. I’m convinced that whoever wrote this episode pretty much just thought to themselves “Hey, adults have had to be traumatized by ‘Chucky.’ Let’s not leave out the kids! Here, have your own toy-like terror monster!” The whole idea of drowning, suffocating, whatever, by being covered in some gross goo is horrible enough on its own, regardless of having it all tied up in the nightmare fuel of toys coming to life and attacking kids.

Kate’s Fears

images-2“Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones” by Alvin Schwartz

I’ve mentioned here that one of my absolute favorite book collections as a kid were the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series by Alvin Schwartz. But along with loving them, there were a few stories, mostly because of the pictures, that scared the living daylights out of me. The story that messed me up the most was that of “Harold”, a story about a scarecrow that comes to life and murders one of his creators. I think that it was the combination of the drawing of the terrible Harold (I mean just look at him!) and the final line of the story, which talks about Harold laying out a piece of flesh on the roof to ‘dry in the sun’. Like, what the hell is that about? In my nightmares about these books, Harold made the most frequent appearances. I still don’t really care for scarecrows.

“Fire in the Sky” (Film)p14658_p_v8_ad

I don’t know whose genius idea it was to advertise this movie with shots from an alien abduction and experiment scene, but they can bite my ass. When this movie came out I was in grade school, and since I would watch “Star Trek” with my Dad I would see the promos for this film. It’s supposedly based on a true story (whatever that means) in which a logger named Travis Walton disappeared for a few days, and when he returned he said that he had been abducted by aliens. So then I was convinced that I was going to be abducted by aliens and experimented on as well, because BASED ON A TRUE STORY, GUYS! When I was an adult I saw that it was on Netflix Instant for a time, and thought that I should face my childhood fear and laugh about how silly I was. Except, oops, the alien abduction and experimentation scene was still super upsetting and I just kind of wanted to die while watching it. Here, have a trailer. It has a glimpse of the sequence I’m referring to.

matila-2“Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Yup, another instance in which I loved a book and yet it scared me to death. And what was it that scared me to death about this book? Was it Miss Trunchbull and her penchant for throwing children? Was is Matilda’s awful parents and they way that they abused her? Was it The Chokey? Oh no. It was the part where Matilda glues her father’s hat to his head with superglue. Yep, you heard it here first, folks, Kate had RIDICULOUS anxiety about that concept. What if it would never come off? What if a hat got glued to MY head and then IT would never come off?! Honestly, I had so many crazy anxieties as a child that made no sense I probably should have been in therapy for them, and the hat glue scene from “Matilda” is really just the one that takes the biggest WTF cake. I hid that damn book behind my bookshelf after reading that scene, and didn’t come back for it for a week or two.

What did you fear when you were a child? Let us know in the comments! We won’t judge you if you don’t judge us!

Book Club Review: “Eliza and Her Monsters”

31931941We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. 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 a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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: “Eliza and Her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 800s (Literature, Writing)

Book Description: Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. 

Kate’s Thoughts

My high school years were during the time before social media really became a huge thing. My parents had Internet, but it was a dial up connection that we could only use if we weren’t expecting or planning to make any pertinent phone calls. And honestly, I’m so relieved that the Internet wasn’t the big social zone that it is now, for regular people as well as celebrities. I think that teenage Kate would have both loved living a lot of her life online, but I also think that it would have been isolating in its own way (and given that I was bullied a fair amount, it probably would have opened up a huge target on my back from my peers). And that is where “Eliza and Her Monsters” comes in. As a teenager who suffered from social anxiety and depression, I saw a bit of me in Eliza, our main character who has found the online world to be more comforting than the real world. And as someone who has written some fanfiction in her life (and was a vaguely well known author in a niche fandom at one point, though I’m not telling which), the ups and downs of online artistry also spoke to me. But the core of Eliza herself, and how she interacted with those around her, didn’t do as much for me as one might think that it would.

But I want to start with what I liked here. I thought that Eliza’s social anxieties were pretty spot on in terms of characterization. Without really outwardly saying that she was suffering from it, you get a slow and well painted picture of what Eliza’s insecurities are like, how they hinder her, and how she tries to cope with them. It was refreshing to see this character portrayed in a realistic and honest way, and that while it was understandable that she would act in various ways, she wasn’t totally let off the hook when she was being a jerk to those around her. I also really liked that this book brings up the philosophical question of ‘what do artists owe their fans?’. Sure, this is something that has been going on for a long time, but with the advent of social media, now fans can not only interact with each other, but they now have the opportunity to address and interact with their favorite creators in a more direct way. And while this is great in lots of ways, in other ways, sometimes lines are crossed and fan entitlement gets a bit out of hand. From the “Song of Ice and Fire” fandom to the “Harry Potter” fandom to the wonderful world of comics across the board, sometimes healthy and relevant critiques of topics turn into “YOU OWE US THIS.” This book allows us to see that from the creator’s POV through Eliza and one of her favorite authors, and it’s a great way to raise these questions and get the reader to think about them.

But there were other things about this book that frustrated me. Mainly, I didn’t really care for Eliza, as relatable and realistic as she was. I think that seeing it from the perspective of an adult who had to tramp through that swamp of teen angst and came out on the other side, a lot of me was saying “goddammit, suck it up.” Teen Kate would have TOTALLY loved Eliza though, and given that this is, ultimately, written with teens in mind, I think that she probably works well. I also was a bit frustrated with her relationship with Wallace, if only because I felt like there were some things that she did that were SO manipulative and she never really was taken to task for it. I didn’t really like what it said about acceptable things in teen relationships.

Overall, I liked how “Eliza and Her Monsters” approached fandom, artistry, and teenage mental illness. I wish that I had liked the protagonist more, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Serena’s Thoughts

As Kate has lain out so nicely, my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this book is pretty similar. I don’t have the personal experience of existing as a creator on an online platform, but I follow various fandoms online fairly avidly and have witnessed first hand the strength in community that these groups can bring, as well as the viscous cycle of entitlement and possession that can also be on display at times. In these ways, I think this book is very much speaking to an ongoing struggle in today’s teens’ lives that I, like Kate, never had to deal with.

Like Kate, I was never part of the popular crowd in highschool. I wasn’t the most bullied either, and instead existed somewhere in the probably lucky “no one cares” zone of being unnoticed. I also had no other “version” of life or a representation of my life that I had to maintain, like today’s teens who must carefully navigate and manage not only their day-to-day activities, but also the version of themselves that exists online. Eliza, uncomfortable and shy in real life, has found a niche for herself online. But no social sphere comes without its own strings.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of creativity on an online platform. Eliza is both safely at a distance from those who interact with her online (one of the appeals of her online persona), but is also exposed and at the mercy of those same fans. No longer do fans need to write a letter and mail it in to an author who may or may not even look at their fan mail. Creators online are exposed across so many formats to the visceral reactions of the same fans whose admiration and appreciation they are hoping to garner. I think one of the best representations of the push/pull relationship of this kind is Bo Burnham’s raw, and almost tragic, song “Can’t Handle This.”

But, in general, I read books for the characters, so as much as I loved the themes that were tackled in this story, I had a similar hang up with Eliza as Kate did. I think Kate hit it on the nose when she mentioned the fact that she and I are reading this having come out on the other side of that hellish tunnel called “highschool.” Many years (yikes!) distanced from these same struggles, they begin to lose their edge. This is good, but it also presents a reality check when reading books like these. I don’t want to dismiss these problems as “just highschool stuff, get ready for REAL life, kids!” But…I’m still a 30 something woman reading this and that’s what I felt. So with that perspective, maybe there’s nothing wrong with this character for highschoolers themselves, and it’s probably touching on many relatable challenges. But there are many YA stories out there that present the challenges of their young protagonists in ways that are more approachable and sympathetic to their adult readers as well than this one did, which is a legitimate mark against it.

Kate’s Rating 7: This book brings up a lot of good questions about artistry and creativity, the relationship artists have with their fans, and mental illness, but I was put off by Eliza, as relatable as she could be at times.

Serena’s Rating 6: Many great themes are discussed, but the protagonist wasn’t as widely relatable as she could be to readers beyond highschool themselves. And as a reader who goes in mostly for characters, this put a pretty big dent in my enjoyment of the book.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of Eliza as a main character? Did you find her to be relatable and/or likable?
  2. Have you ever had a friend you met online, or know solely from online interaction? What do you think about the claim that online friends aren’t ‘real’ friends?
  3. Eliza has a complex relationship with the fans of her work. What do you think an artist owes their fans when it comes to content production, or characterization? Do they owe their fans anything?
  4. Eliza has a contentious relationship with her parents. What did you think of how they all interacted with each other? What could they have done differently?
  5. Have you ever followed an online work that is posted occasionally like “Monstrous Sea”? What was it? Is it still going on? If not, how did it end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Eliza and Her Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Fiction Featuring Fangirls, Fanboys, or General Fandom”, and “YA Nerd/Geek Books”.

Find “Eliza and Her Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Movin’ Right Along: Favorite Traveling Stories!

Over the week of Labor Day, both of us went on week long adventures and vacations. Serena went to Glacier National Park for family and the outdoors, while Kate went to New Zealand for hobbits and landscape appreciation! In honor of our trips, we have complied a list of books that have to do with traveling and vacationing. Just because summer is almost over, it doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to travel and trips!

172732Book: “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Publishing Info: Verso Books, 1995

Before Che Guevara became a legendary revolutionary and symbol of rebellion, he was a medical student with a taste for adventure. He and his friend Alberto went on a motorcycle journey from his home in Argentina to a leper colony where he was going to treat patients. During this journey across the continent he met many people from many backgrounds, and seeing their plight sparked his political activism. His journey on his motorcycle is chronicled in his diary, which was published years after the fact and became a critically acclaimed movie starring Gael Garcia Bernal. South America comes to life on the page as Guevara’s journey unfolds, and it makes the reader ache to see what he saw.

9791Book: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, 1998

Those familiar with Bill Bryson know that he’s an avid traveler and a connoisseur in history and storytelling. Arguably, his most famous and beloved work is “A Walk in the Woods”, his story of his attempt at walking the Appalachian Trail with very little prep and very little idea of what he was getting himself into. After putting out feelers to the people in life as to who would like to try and walk the Trail with him, his only taker is an old college friend named Katz. Hilarity, mayhem, and poignancy ensue. This travel log is not only very funny, but also has some fascinating stories about the history of the trail, the wildlife on it, and the people they meet along the way.

29283884Book: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, 2017

Part romantic romp, part historical fiction, and part sumptuous road trip adventure, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” is not your average travel story.  Monty, a teenage boy of high stature in the 1700s, is going on a final European Tour before he is to settle down and take over the family estate. Accompanied by his sister Felicity and his best friend (and unrequited crush) Percy, Monty cavorts through 1700s Europe, meeting interesting people, and getting into trouble, along the way. The descriptions of this trip are fun and decadent, and you cannot help but wish that you too could be accompanying them through Old Europe and the adventures that they pursue.

10692Book: “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova

Publishing Info: Time Warner Books, 2005

On the surface level, this is presented as a horror story relating to Vlad the Impaler who is most notoriously known for inspiring Bram Stoker’s “Dracula, and the legacy that he and this most famous vampire have left across the centuries. In particular, how is this history tied up with Rossi family, the central characters of our story? However, more actually, it is a travelogue story detailing the rich history of Eastern Europe. A family mystery leads our two protagonists throughout the region, and the text takes a deep dive into the beauty of its wildernesses and cities. This book will make you want to suddenly upend your life and take a month-long trip to Budapest.

865Book: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, 1988

This is the story of a treasure hunt. But instead of pirates, islands, and maps marked with an “X,” we follow Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels from his home in Spain across the desert in Egypt to discover a hidden treasure said to be buried in the pyramids. However, no one knows what exactly this treasure is. As he travels and meets new and interesting people (a gypsy woman, a would-be King, the titular alchemist), we come to see that the real treasure is the value placed on dreams and the will to follow them wherever they may lead us.

45546Book: “Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier” by Stephen E. Ambrose

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, 1996

This is a nonfiction story that is masquerading as fiction and details the historic journey across the country by Lewis and Clark between 1803 and 1806. Ambrose focuses his tale particularly on Captain Meriwether Lewis and his relationship with President Jefferson, the driving force behind the mission. While many of us know the broad strokes of the story, this book is jammed packed with details that add color, heart, and rightly highlight the real stakes involved in undertaking a journey such as this. For example, did you know that at this point in history, the wilderness was so overrun by squirrels that they would actually migrate each year, in a similar manner to birds? And Lewis and Clark noted seeing packs of them swim across rivers in this migration? As a largely fiction reader, this is on a select must-read nonfiction list!

 

The North Read-members: A “Game of Thrones” Book List

Like many people, we are HUGE fans of “Game of Thrones” here at The Library Ladies. The drama, the action, the intrigue, the DRAGONS, we are here for it. With the seventh season a little past its midway point, we thought that it would be fun to throw out some recommendations inspired by the show. But instead of focusing on plot points, we’re focusing on characters, and what books they might like. The night is dark, and full of readers, so let’s see what books we would recommend to some of the best loved (and most hated) characters on the show.

 

Jon Snow: “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks

Jon Snow, who is presently the King of the North, is less interested in the fight over the Iron Throne, and more interested in the fact that a horde of ice zombies known as White Walkers are gathering an army that is threatening to invade all of Westeros. Even though his strategizing has been mostly solid up until this point (the whole Rickon thing notwithstanding), we think that he should read up on Max Brooks’s book “The Zombie Survival Guide”. This book talks about how to defend against an uprising of the undead in your day to day life, and while it has it’s tongue planted firmly in cheek, it still gives realistic and helpful tips on how to plan for multiple kinds of disasters. Dragon Glass and Valyrian Steel may be key, but having escape routes and plans for any terrain and climate from the get go couldn’t hurt, right?

 

Daenerys Targaryen: “Dragon’s Milk” by Susan Fletcher

It’s been quite a while now since Dany’s dragons were adorable little draclings, but there was a time when they were only adorable little babies, helpless and needing her care. “Dragon’s Milk” was one of my favorite fantasy stories when I was a teenager, and the three adorable draclings that our teenage protagonists “adopts” was definitely part of the appeal. I believe we even named one of our pet birds “Pyrro” after one of the draglings in this story. Here, Kaedra, like Dany, finds herself raising three tiny dragons who are truly babies, temper tantrums and all. What’s more, this book, like “Game of Thrones” doesn’t play it safe with the stakes. There is danger, tragedy, and real consequences involved for all of the character’s actions.

 

Arya Stark: “Skullsworn” by Brian Staveley

For our most deadly Stark, what could be better than a book that is ALSO about a female assassin who has been trained by an organization that essentially worships death? While Staveley’s Skullsworn do not give up their names (or get super cool face-changing-abilities) they do have a similarly pragmatic approach to death and killing and are equally proficient at it. Our would-be-assasin, Pyrre, even has a list of marks she must kill before the end of the book in order to pass her final test. Arya would fit right in with this group! And I’m sure they would have looked on with pride at her mass elimination of no-one’s favorite sleazy patriarch and family.

 

Tyrion Lannister: “And I Darken” by Kiersten White

Going in, this book seems to be about Lada and her rise/fall to power. But this is also Radu’s story, and his is one that in many ways closely mirrors Tyrion’s. They are both born into the world with traits that set them apart and clearly mark them as “other.” This failure to be the sons their fathers want leads to neglect, scorn, and ultimately, exile. Both have complicated relationships with their siblings, specifically their sisters, and both find themselves more welcome and at home in the court of a foreign ruler whom they go on to support and become the right hand man of. Like Tyrion, Radu thrives at political maneuvering and brings these skills to the forefront in his support of Mehmed. And in many ways, Lada can be seen as the combination of Cersei and Jaime into one sibling; she both loves and hates Radu at different points throughout the story, and his feelings are similarly flexible towards her.

 

Cersei Lannister/Jaime Lannister: “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews

Well, the obvious comparison is there. Cersei and Jaime, the Golden Twins of House Lannister, are a bit too close for comfort. They are in love with/obsessed with each other, and all of her children with King Robert Baratheon are actually her children with her twin brother. So yes, the Twincest factor matches up with the brother/sister couple of Cathy and Chris Dollanganger. But there are other parallels between the Lannister family and the Dollangers of V.C. Andrews’s book “Flowers in the Attic.” The Dollangangers also have a massive fortune that they sit upon, and with that money comes the dysfunction, cruelty, and haughtiness that has come to define the Lannisters. So does a penchant for poisoning those who may be getting in their way. And much like Corrine Dollanganger, it can be argued that Tywin Lannister doesn’t really care for any of his children, so parent issues are present as well.

 

Sansa Stark: “The Witness Wore Red” by Rebecca Musser

There is no question that Sansa Stark has been through hell. She was raised to be a queen, but then betrothed to a sociopath, held political hostage by his family, only to escape to then be married off to ANOTHER sociopath who tortured and raped her daily. But she escaped from him as well, reclaimed her family home, got her brutal revenge on her husband (in one of the most satisfying sequences the show has ever done), and became the rightful Lady of the North once again. Because of all this, she should read “The Witness Wore Red,” a memoir by a woman who was a member of the FLDS Church, until she escaped and testified against her abusers in court. It follows her life as a child growing up in the FLDS, being married off to the elderly ‘prophet’ of the sect, Rulon Jeffs, and her eventual escape and activism. This book is harrowing and hard to read, but ultimately triumphant, as Musser not only has her life and her freedom now, she is also an advocate for stopping sex trafficking and abuse.

 

Brienne of Tarth: “The Woman Who Rides Like a Man” by Tamora Pierce

Technically, “The Woman Who Rides Like a Man” is the 3rd book in a 4 book series, but the title and plot of this one book in the series most closely aligns with Brienne’s experience of life as a lady knight in a world that doesn’t know what to make of that. I mean, this is the tag line of this book: “Let her prove herself worthy as a man.” Alanna faces the same challenges as Brienne now that she has graduated as a full knight while at the same time being exposed as a woman, a fact she has hidden for years as she trained. Both Brienne and Alanna are constantly defending their right to be what they are: excellent warrior women. And both Brienne and Alanna find the people and causes for which they are willing to devote their considerable abilities to fully.

There are so many other characters that we haven’t touched upon. What books would you recommend to those characters, or the ones that we covered? Tell us in the comments!!