Joint Rev-Up Review: “Fallout”

23110163Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. In anticipation of the new Lois Lane book, “Double Down”, we go back to the first in the series, “Fallout”.

Book: “Fallout” by Gwenda Bond

Publication Info: Switch Press, May 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy.

Kate’s Thoughts

Does this book sound familiar to you? Well it should, because it was one of our recommendations on our “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” review. And you probably remember that we both love Lois Lane and will stand for her until the end of time. Given that I’ve been a Lois fan since I was a child, I was really really REALLY excited to see that the roving reporter was getting her own YA series set in modern day Metropolis. Because if anyone needs her own series, it’s Lois Friggin’ Lane! Especially given how the New 52 Comics have treated her character….

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Seriously. Screw you, DC. (source)

So I will just get one thing out of the way right off the bat: if this book hadn’t been about Lois Lane, and had just been an original character getting into a strange undercover reporter position, I probably would have found it pretty meh. The main character is snippy and snappy in an aggressively quirky kind of way, her friends are tropes, and the story isn’t really anything new or original when it comes to YA mysteries. But since it’s Lois Lane who is being sarcastic and slick and since we’re in a DC universe with ridiculous storylines abound, I am FULLY ON BOARD! Lois is portrayed as an intelligent and ambitious teenage girl without being a mean girl, which is a very nice thing to see. I think that it would be tempting to equate ambition with cruelty and coldness (especially when that ambition is coming from a female), but Bond makes her kind and caring as well as filled with a drive to succeed. And she isn’t perfect, either. She does have a bad temper at times, and she is impulsive to the point of being dangerously reckless. And as a teenager this totally works, as so many teenagers think that they are completely invincible, so why not teenage Lois? Especially when ADULT Lois goes through life feeling the same.

It’s also nice getting a bit of insight into Lois’ home life and personal life. We get to see her sister Lucy, her mother Ellen, and her father Sam, and really the only other memorable portrayals of these three characters, for me, were on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”. And in that Lucy disappeared after half a season, Ellen was a vague narcissist, and Sam was introduced when he showed up to Christmas celebrations with a sex robot (they say fiancee, but we know what she is). So seeing Lois have a more at home and healthy relationship with both her sister and her parents helped make her feel like a real teenage girl. Her friendships, specifically the ones with Maddy and “SmallvilleGuy”, also really add to her character as well. While Maddy is kind of the typical ‘rebel girl’, her friendship with Lois fleshes her out, and their compassion towards Anavi (the girl getting harassed by the cartoonly evil Warheads) is also very humanizing. Lois is a character who has never, within the canon, made friends too easily, and that makes her nice relationship with Maddy all the more sweet and satisfying. Her friendships with the other reporters at The Scoop are fine, with kind and geeky Devin and snooty and broody James rounding out the group. I was worried that one of these guys would be presented as a possible love interest for Lois, which I wouldn’t be on board with in this story. It’s mostly because I think that Lois is a strong enough character to stand on her own, and doesn’t need a love triangle to make her life more complicated. “SmallvilleGuy” is complicated enough. And as for “SmallvilleGuy”, well……

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As a Lois and Clark shipper until the day I die, it was great. Plus, by having him be an online pen pal, Clark doesn’t steal any spotlight from Lois, and the two of them can have their wonderful interactions without changing their origin stories too much.

Though the plot is a little predictable and the villains kind of boring, overall “Fallout” is a great intro story to this new Lois Lane series. “Double Down” will be next, and hopefully Lois Lane will go on to shine again. She deserves that.

Serena’s Thoughts

While my heart will always belong to Teri Hatcher as the one, true Lois Lane from “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” I did plow my way through all 10 seasons of “Smallville.” And, in many ways “Smallville” is the YA version of “Lois and Clark,” dealing with highschool/college age Lois and Clark (I like to pretend that the early seasons of Lana don’t exist). For all the other silliness and angst-ridden nonsense of the show, I always liked Erika Durance’s Lois. She had the same spunk and independence that I came to associate with Lois Lane, while also dealing with issues that would confront the character at a younger age. So really, “Fallout” plays the same role to the more classic examples of an adult Lois Lane from the comics.

Like Kate said, all in all there’s nothing super special about the plot. If anything, I spent most of my time wondering how exactly the mechanics of the video game they were all playing really worked. Some type of virtual reality World of Warcraft? It sounded fun, if anything. But yes, the characters were nothing special. The bullies were typical bullies, most of the friends fell into fairly predictable roles, and the adults were often as ridiculous as one comes to expect from much of YA fiction these days.

What made the whole thing special were the connections to the comics. As a longtime fan, it was so exciting seeing familiar (and often very overlooked side characters) finally get a time to shine. Not only Lois, but her father, mother, sister and Perry White. My fangirl heart was all a-flutter each time a new familiar face made an appearance.

And Lois herself was great. She reminded me a lot of the Lois character from “Smallville,” modernized but still familiar with her drive and often insane recklessness. And, obviously, any interaction between her and “SmallvilleGuy” was too previous for this world.

The story was predicable, and the ending had many convenient pieces falling into place in just the right way at just the right time, but the novelty alone really saves this book. All Bond needed to do was get Lois and Clark right, and I would be sold. And she succeeded at that. I’m exited to see where “Double Down” takes these characters!

Kate’s Rating 7: The plot itself is a bit contrived and the original characters have some room to grow, but Lois Lane shines in this teenage origin story. It’s a solid start to what could be a very fun and satisfying series.

Serena’s Rating 7: Samesies.

Reader’s Advisory

“Fallout” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Ladies of DC”, and “Superhero YA!”.

Find “Fallout” at your library using WorldCat!

Go For The Gold!: Sports Books for The Olympics

The 2016 Summer Games are occurring right now in Rio de Janeiro, and the world has come together to compete in a number of summer sports! From gymnastics to swimming to soccer to basketball, multiple athletes are trying to get the gold! So with the Olympics underway, we thought it would be fun to examine some books that have sports themes in them, particularly sports that are played during the Summer Games!

26795703Book: “Tumbling” by Caela Carter

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, June 2016

“Tumbling” centers around a number of American teenage girls who are vying for a spot on the Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team. Given how amazing U.S.A.’s Final Five have been during these games, and given how popular Women’s Gymnastics is every year, it seems only fair that this book make the list.  Not only does it showcase the glory and excitement of trying to make the Olympics, it also shows the struggle and the stress that comes with it. Following a few different girls, “Tumbling” is the perfect companion book for these summer games!

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Book: “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown

Publishing Info: Viking, June 2013

Following the a true story of Olympic dreams, “The Boys in the Boat” is about the American Rowing Team during the 1936 Olympics, and everything that they had to do to make it to the top of the medal’s podium. This non fiction book has been fairly popular for awhile, and given that it’s an Olympic year the interest is sure to spike once more. While rowing may not have the same interest as swimming or gymnastics does these days, it was very popular in the 1930s, so this race was huge. And who doesn’t want to root against Nazi Germany?

4264Book: “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby

Publication Info: Riverhead Books, 1992

Hornby’s memoir and ode to his love of football (soccer to all of us Yanks!) is one that only brings to light the high intensity world of sports fandom, but also shines a bright light on a world-wide obsession. This is listed as an autobiography/comedy/analytical piece, which is a lot of hats to wear. But, as any sports-lover knows, one’s team can becomes one’s life, if you’re not careful! While some of the references may be dated, “Fever Pitch” still makes most all lists of best soccer-related books.

10340846Book: “The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation” by Elizabeth Letts

Publication Info: Ballantine Books, January 2011

 The true story of “Snowman,” a regular old plow horse who was rescued from the back of a truck that was on its way to the slaughterhouse and went on to become a national sensation in show jumping. Horse stories are a personal favorite of mine, but it is rare to find a true story that is about horses competing and succeeding in anything other than track racing. With comparisons to “Seabiscuit,” a personal favorite, this sounds like the perfect book for any equestrian sports lovers out there!

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Book: “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

Publishing Info: Random House, November 2010

Speaking of “Seabiscuit”…by the same author, Laura Hillenbrand, comes another World War II true story. This might feel like a bit of a repeat, as the Berlin games are also the focus of our second suggestion, but with a major motion picture recently released, and an amazing story of resilience and survival, we couldn’t leave “Unbroken” off this list. Louis Zamperini‘s story is extremely powerful, speaking to the inner strength that athletes draw upon in their sports (in his case, track and field as a runner) and that, in his case, translated to endurance as a prisoner of war.

The Play’s The Thing!: Books Turned Into Theater

With “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” taking the world by storm, we thought that it could be fun to focus our Monday post on the stage! Though “Cursed Child” is a play that has been released as a novel, we are going to focus on the other way around: books that have been turned into successful and famous plays.

Book/Play: “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux (play by Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Publication/Premiere Information: September 1909; 1986

“The Phantom of the Opera” is a classic tale of beauty and the beast, obsessive and tragic love, and the power of music. The play is a personal favorite of both of us, the music and the story and the tragedy of Erik the Phantom overtaking us every time. And before you start to say “oh gross, how could you like a story about an obsessive and murderous stalker,” we have to say to you:

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We know. It’s fine. Whatever. We still love it. Leroux’s novel is about Christine, an opera singer who rises to stardom thanks to lessons from her “Angel of Music.” The opera house that she sings at is also the home to an “Opera Ghost” who terrorizes those who don’t bend to his will. The Angel and the Ghost are one and the same, a disfigured man named Erik who is obsessed with Christine and wants her to marry him. But Christine is in love with Raoul, a nobleman who wants to whisk her away. This displeases Erik, and carnage and violence ensues. In spite of his creepy demeanor and stalker persona, there is just something incredibly tragic about the Phantom that makes him very, very sympathetic, and Michael Crawford’s depiction of him on the stage is a performance that is timeless. The music is very operatic and dramatic, which is perfect for a book that is basically a soap opera. “The Phantom of the Opera” has been running on Broadway since 1988, with no signs of stopping. And if you want a surefire way to make both of us sob, just play the entire finale track from the show.

Book/Play: “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (play by Claude Michel-Schonberg and Jean Marc Natel, English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer)

Publication/Premiere Information: 1862; 1980

Known affectionately as “The Brick” by its fandom, the novel “Les Miserables” tackles and disseminates the French political and judicial systems of the time period. It focuses on many characters from many walks of life, but perhaps the most famous is Jean Valjean, a thief turned do gooder. Hugo’s book is considered to be one of the best of French Literature, and the play is one of the most beloved musicals of all time. The show gives many voices to many characters, especially giving voice to Eponine, a somewhat side character in the book. In the play she is arguably the second most important female role, as she is portrayed as very three dimensional and complex. The play has been translated into more than twenty languages, and has been the longest running play in London’s West End. You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of “Les Miserables,” book or play, and its enduring legacy is still going strong among classics lovers and theater kids alike.

Book/Play: “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (play by Nick Dear)

Publication/Premiere Info: 1818; February 2011

So this one is kind of a fun anomaly that we both wanted to talk about. The book “Frankenstein” is quite possibly one of the first examples of science fiction in literature, as a young Mary Shelley told the story of science and electricity raising the dead. This story has had MANY adaptations, from Boris Karloff as the Monster to a parody written by Mel Brooks. But this play is kind of interesting. First of all, it was directed by “28 Days Later”‘s Danny Boyle, which is pretty neat. The second, and far more relevant thing to us, is that it starred Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Miller and Cumberbatch played both Dr. Frankenstein, and his monster, swapping roles for different performances. The play takes some licenses with the original text, but both Miller and Cumberbatch won awards for their performances as Frankenstein and The Monster.

Book/Play: “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire (play by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman)

Publication/Premiere Info: 1995; 2003

This is kind of a no-brainer for us, as “Wicked” is another of our favorite musicals. The book is more of a examination of political propaganda, social commentary, and ethics, with Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch, leading a revolution and being vilified for it. The play certainly has this theme, but it gives far more play and time to the theme of friendship, specifically that between Elphaba and Glinda the Good Witch. Schwarz’s musical also makes Elphaba and Glinda more layers of complexity, as while they are complex in the novel, their complicated and fierce friendship makes both of these witches not only stronger, but more vulnerable.

Book/Play: “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie (musical directed by Jerome Robbins)

Publication/Premiere Information: 1911, 1954

And, of course, no list of famous book/play/musical adaptations would be complete without mentioning “Peter Pan.” Technically this is a tricky one as as Barrie originally wrote “Peter Pan” as a play that debuted in 1904 and then later adapted it into a novel. And then in 1954, it was re-adapted as the musical, lead by Mary Martin as the title character, that we are all most familiar with today. While both have challenging aspects to modern viewers/ readers, Barrie’s timeless story of childhood and the perils of growing up is one that continues to spark imagination. Sadly, that imagination does not always translate into great things…

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So that’s it from us! What are some of your favorite book-to-stage adaptations?

Reader’s Advisory for “The Raven Cycle”

Thank you for reading our joint series review for “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater. As promised, here is our longer, in-depth Reader’s Advisory post for the entire series now that we have completed it. On to the picks!

Serena’s Picks:

Series: “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series by Laini Taylor

This book is right up there as one of my newer favorite young adult fantasy series. If you liked the combination of fantasy and horror that you got with the “Raven Cycle,” this series is right up your alley. Also, if you liked anything about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”…don’t want to give it away, but yikes! Taylor also introduces a strong cast of characters, and while the romance is probably a stronger element in this series than it was in the “Raven Cycle,” it never overpowers what is otherwise an incredibly creative and unpredictable fantasy story.

518848Book: “Sabriel” by Garth Nix

This is one of my all time favorite fantasy novels. I wasn’t as aware of it as a teenager reading the story, but man is it dark as well! I guess there are necromancers in it, so I should have been aware as a kid, but for some reason, as an adult reader who regularly revisits this book, I’ve come to appreciate how well Nix handles the dark fantasy elements in this book. It also features a kickass heroine in Sabriel herself, a slow-burn romance that doesn’t overtake the story, and snarky cat. So, it’s pretty much the perfect book. It can also be read as a standlone, but Nix has written several sequels in the years since it was first published. I still prefer this one above all and so am only highlighting it here, but if you do read it and enjoy it, I did enjoy the others, too.

10626594Book: “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

Maybe this is a cheaty answer, but I don’t care! Obviously, if you like Stiefvater’s writing for this series, you are likely to enjoy her writing in this book. Mythology in the modern day, this book is simply a beautiful imagining of an only slightly alternate world where horses can come from the sea and are as beautiful as they are dangerous. The writing is exquisite, the two main characters are sympathetic and strong, and, it’s a stand alone that leaves the reader fully satisfied. Regardless of anything else, if you love horses or books about horses, this story is perfect for you.

Kate’s Picks:

Series: “Locke and Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

A dark fantasy comic about family, magic, friendship, and demons, “Locke and Key” by Joe Hill (one of my favorite authors writing today) and Gabriel Rodriguez (Illustrator) is a dark and fantastical story. It follows the Locke Family, who has moved back to the childhood home of the recently murdered patriarch. Inside the house the three children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, find many magical things, such as magical keys, a door that once you cross you can leave your body, and a magical crown. But there is also a demon inside the well on the property that wants the keys. The tone is both frightening and coming of age, and it is a wonderful adventure filled with action, metaphors, and heart.

22535489Book: “Bone Gap” by Laura Ruby

The town of Bone Gap has an entertaining set of citizens, including a man who treats his chickens like they are people, a hippie lady who makes honey and honey based products, and the O’Sullivan brothers, Sean and Finn, who took in a mysterious woman named Roza. But then Roza disappeared, and Finn saw a dark and mysterious man with her whose face he cannot remember. “Bone Gap” is a story about evil beings that are seeking beautiful princesses, teenagers falling in and out of love, and a very odd town with very odd characters. I picked this because of the town Bone Gap itself, which, like Henrietta, has a feel to it that makes it feel like it’s very own character.

Book: “Far Far Away” by Tom McNeal16030663

Noah Czerny is one of my favorite characters in “The Raven Cycle”, the ghost who is still walking this earth because of the magical Ley Line. “Far Far Away” deals with a ghost as well, but this ghost is a familiar one: Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm. “Far Far Away” is a story about a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson, whose closest confidant is Jacob, who is there to watch over him and protect him from an unknown evil. The friendship between Jacob and Jeremy is a sweet one, as is the friendship between Jeremy and a free-spirited girl named Ginger. And the horror elements of this story are also solid, involving a mysterious entity that is threatening Jeremy, taking fairy tale’s darkest points and making them even creepier.

And this wraps up our week long retrospective of “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater. If you have read “The Raven Boys” or any other books in the series, what books do you think are similar? 

Joint Review: “The Raven King”

17378527This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the fourth and final book in the series, “The Raven King.”

Book: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, April 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: Both got the audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I waited long and not totally patiently to get to this, the conclusion to “The Raven Cycle”. The book version taunted me on the shelf at work, because I was determined to hear Will Patton give life to these characters one last time, and that is what I did. And boy was it worth the wait. When early in the story some strange, ethereal beings that looked just like Blue Sargent came walking through the woods saying ‘make way for the Raven King’, in a weird, strange way, I knew that I was going to enjoy the end of all things. And all of our Raven Boys (and Blue) are so completely burdened during this book that the way that this all shakes out is going to be very, very important and consequence filled.

I was mostly happy and satisfied with how it did, which is the good news! Stiefvater had a lot of plots to wrap up, but I feel like she addressed most of them and gave them closure. The reality of their situation has started to take it’s toll on The Raven Boys and Blue. Blue is coping with the prophecy that has haunted her her entire life, now that she has found a true love in Gansey. Gansey knows that he’s doomed to die in a sacrifice, and is trying to make peace with this. Ronan is still creating things and creatures and pulling them out of his dreams (including a little girl with hooves he calls Orphan Girl), but the responsibilities with this gift are weighing on him. Adam is a powerful scryer, but the loss of Persephone in “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” is still haunting him, as is his abuse filled past. And Noah seems to be wasting away before their eyes. Seeing all of this was both very sad, but very good in the sense that it was a good reminder that they are all teenagers. If they weren’t as affected by these things as they were, it would seem very disingenuous on Stiefvater’s part. It felt appropriate that they were all in their own little angst bubbles in this book.

It was also fun seeing Piper Greenmantle again, newly teamed up with Neve and a really disgusting demon that looks like a giant wasp. The demon always felt like a serious threat, and Stiefvater’s descriptions of it and the hell that it wreaked upon the characters in this book were very scary and made me squirm. But I think that this could tie into one of the weaknesses of this book. While Stiefvater did a good job of wrapping up most of the storylines, there were a few that felt very rushed to wrap up. I don’t want to give spoilers away, necessarily, but there were a couple characters who were brought back just to be thrown to the side. I went in thinking that these characters were going to be there for the remains of the book, especially the ones that have been gone since early in the series, to give them a large send off. But then they would be over and done with after, like, a chapter. I didn’t like how rushed that felt, and I think that sometimes it was done to make room for the new characters, which didn’t seem too fair.

That said, I LOVED a few of the new characters, Henry Cheng especially. We hadn’t seen very much of him in the previous “Raven Cycle” books, but he was given a prominent role in this book as he gets closer to Gansey and Blue. His friendship with Blue was especially nice, since in the previous book he highly offended her without meaning to and it caused a lot of tension between her and Gansey. By the end of this he kind of felt like Carol Cleveland’s role in the “Monty Python” group: not officially a part of the gang, but important enough and there enough that he was totally a part of the gang all things considered. I also liked the introduction of his mother, Sun, a dealer in magical and antique items, a fact that manages to tie a lot of the realties of this world and the conflict that is in it together.

There was another thing that I was worried about in this book, and that was Gansey’s ultimate demise. I, of course, hoped that there would be a way to make this prophecy not so, as I love Gansey, I love his relationship with his friends, and I love his relationship with Blue. But at the same time, this Death Kiss had been so hyped and so matter of fact, that if Stiefvater did some sort of cheap cop out or cliched solution, I would only be disappointed. I was worried and very skeptical that she would muck it up in some way. I’m not going to say much else on the matter, except that this was NOT the case at all, and that she was able to reconcile everything together in a way that I really, really enjoyed.

And Adam and Ronan. Oh my gosh, Adam and Ronan. I love everything about their relationship, and there were absolutely beautiful descriptions about each of them through the other’s eyes that felt so achingly romantic and tender that I got choked up a few times. You wouldn’t think that describing someone as an oil spill would be breathtaking in this regard, and yet Stiefvater managed to do it. Both of these characters are filled with so much anguish and pain, and they understand each other so well and so fully that it always hits the mark in the exact way that it should.

Overall I enjoyed “The Raven King”. I’m going to miss all of these characters and this world that Stiefvater has created, but I am so happy that she ended it the way that she did. Fantasy fans need to check this one out..

Serena’s Thoughts:

And so it ends. I was so nervous for this book. For one, sticking the landing is notably difficult for any series. And for two, Stiefvater had seemingly dug herself quite the hole to dig her way out of. Beyond the obvious prediction of Gansey’s death that has hung over the series as a whole from the very first chapter of the first book, none of these characters have had an easy time of it.

Blue, with her struggles to find a place for herself in a world that she doesn’t seem to fit within all while carrying this heavy burden with regards to love and death tangled in such a way that would break most adults. Ronan, so powerful and yet so trodden down with the burdens of his gift and the losses that just seem to keep coming. Adam, who has come so far, but still carries the scars of his home life, and the internal struggle to accept the gifts of friendship that he has been given, and now has to contend with the full extent to which his promise to be Cabeswater’s hands and eyes will affect his life. And Gansey, now aware of his doom, who can feel the end coming but doesn’t know how to get there or even what role he is to play, now surrounded by such supernaturally powerful friends as Ronan, Blue, and Adam have become. How does to end all of these stories in a way that is true to the tone of the book?

It will be very hard to review this story without spoilers, but I will say that I was immensely satisfied with the ending. These are incredible challenges to face, and I think that Stiefvater handled them all with aplomb. Further, and I really shouldn’t even be surprised any more by this, she adds another character, Henry, who comes with his own baggage and gifts and was slotted in so seamlessly that by the end of the story, I was just as invested in his outcome as the others. Seriously, how does she do this??

The horror in this book also reaches its peak. There were pieces of imagery that were incredibly disconcerting, and often the scene-setting even played hand-in-hand with the type of story-telling you will find in the best horror/thriller novels. At one point, a scene is described through a character’s perspective who cannot see what is happening around him. In many ways, the scene was exactly like one you would come across in a horror movie, when suddenly a room is plunged into darkness and all you have to go on is scuffling and the random shout of dialogue to piece together what is happening. Stiefvater, just like a director of a film scene like this, understands perfectly that sometimes our imagination will make the unseen a million times more terrifying than anything actually presented. It was excellent.

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And, while I was satisfied with the ending, Stiefvater doesn’t fall into the trap of happily-ever-after. The villain in this story is a demon, and if that’s what you’ve got to fight against, a story can’t end with only rainbows and butterflies. A few villains from previous books make surprise appearances, and the background into Mr. Grey’s life as a hitman hired by an underground network of magical art dealers, essentially, is more fully fleshed out in a very creative manner. Sacrifices are made and there were times were I was definitely crying.

But like I said, it did end perfectly. The paths that are lain before the remaining characters were believable and true to the types of people they had all grown into by the end of the series. There was the possibility lain down for future stories for the characters, but I’m not sure how I would feel about a return to this series. This all felt wrapped up so neatly, and I am more than content imagining their future adventures without needing actual follow-up novels. But, at the same time, I’ve started out skeptical about how Stiefvater could pull of this series and live up to the hype, and she’s completely surpassed my expectations. Maybe I should be more trusting! Either way, this was a fantastic conclusion, and I highly, highly recommend this entire series to fans of young adult fantasy and horror.

Kate’s Rating 8: Some of the plot points are hastily tied up, but overall the characterization is spot on and the ending is very satisfying.

Serena’s Rating 9: Practically perfect ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven King” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys,” “The Dream Thieves” and “Blue Lily, Lily Blue.”

Joint Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue”

17378508This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the third in the series, “Blue Lily, Lily Blue.”

Book: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2014

Where Did We Get This Book: We both got an audiobook from the library

Book Description: There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

Kate’s Thoughts:

And it is finally in this, “Blue Lily, Lily Blue,” that “The Raven Cycle” taps into its dark fantasy potential and runs crazy with it. I had been waiting, SO EAGERLY, for this book to become creepy and unsettling, and when things started getting real and  eerie stuff started happening I rejoiced. And then pathos set in, and my rejoicing turned to almost crying. Maggie Stiefvater ran me through the ringer with this book, and Will Patton was an accomplice. And I want to ask both of them, how dare you?

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(source)

When the story begins, Maura, Blue’s Mom and ringleader of the psychics at Fox Way, has disappeared from the house, leaving nothing but a vague note. Blue, understandably worried about her mother, isn’t one to sit around waiting for her to come back, and she enlists her Raven Boys to help her out. The power of friendship is so very strong with this group, and Stiefvater writes them all so believably and gently and tenderly that I can’t help but love every moment of it. Poor Blue is in a situation where she has the most friends that she has ever had in her life, but now her mother has left with little explanation and may never come back. This horrible situation takes it’s toll on Blue throughout the novel, and her desperation is an undercurrent in this story. But along with being afraid for her mother, this is the book where Blue and Gansey finally (kind of) start up a romantic relationship between the two of them. There is, of course, the problem that Blue cannot kiss him, as she is, according to prophecy, doomed to kill her true love after she kisses him. But this kind of works out for the better, as Stiefvater has to portray great sexual chemistry between these two without going to the obvious kissing and make out sessions. The result is incredibly romantic.

Speaking of romance, as a firm shipper of Ronan and Adam, this book was a feast of delightful implications when it comes to those two and their relationship. While part of me was definitely like ‘JUST GET TO THE KISSING!’, I really appreciated how slowly and meticulously Stiefvater decided to build their relationship. Because of this choice, it felt very natural and not unrealistic for Adam and Ronan to start gravitating towards each other. Had Adam just fallen in head over heels, especially with everything going on and his comparatively recent break-up with Blue, it would have rung quite false and come off as patronizing. Adam is starting to understand the way that Ronan feels about him, but he still has aways to go to understand how he feels about Ronan. Seeing them work these things out for themselves is a good way to build to a very satisfying and realistic pay out, and Adam and Ronan are well on their way there.

And then there’s the horror elements that I really, really liked. There were scenes that involved possession (poor Noah, things just keep getting worse and worse for him), and very claustrophobic scenes in caves and forests and darkness. It was in these parts that we met one of very very favorite new characters of this series, Gwenllian. Gwenllian is the daughter of Glendower, and a very potent psychic who tied up and left in a cave beneath Henrietta, where she remained for thousands of years under magical influence. And boy oh boy, is she both super creepy and a super hoot. She has her own abilities, abilities that are similar to Blue’s, though that isn’t one hundred percent made clear in this story. Gwenllian merely says that she and Blue and both mirrors of sorts, and that because of this Blue is safe to stand between the magical (and dangerous) mirrors in the house that made Neve, Maura’s sister, disappear. And Gwenllian comes at just the right time, there to fill the void when shit gets super real and we lose one of the women at the Fox Way house. I won’t tell you which one, but I will say that it’s absolutely heartbreaking, and it was the first time that I felt like the stakes in this series were, indeed, very high. The moment that a recurring character is killed in a series like this, that’s when you know that no one is really safe.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Whew! I felt like I had been put through the ringer when I finished this book! The first two stories slowly built to their climax points towards the end of the novel, but this book was ON the whole time. Throughout it all was the feeling that they were always on the cusp of something, that just around the next corner, on the next page, something even more fantastical was going to appear. And given that we had thousands of cars and nightmare-griffons being pulled out of dreams in the last book, topping herself in the fantasy department seemed like it would be too great a challenge for the author. Nope!

What was notable about the fantasy elements in this story as compared to the first two, perhaps, was the tinges of darkness that prevailed throughout it all. I’m sure Kate was pleased with the increased horror, and speaking for the more casual (read: more easily freaked out) horror reader, the darkness was at just the right level to give chills without veering fully into horror with a capital “H.”

The villains in this book were my favorites so far. Piper and Colin Greenmantle were the exact sort of people you live next to for years, then it comes out that they were psychopathic serial killers, and you’re just like, what? They did yoga! Even better was seeing their bizarre relationship dynamic from within. Their own casual approach to villainy right alongside quaint discussions of domesticity was almost just as disconcerting as all the fantasy horror elements.

Kate’s Rating 8: The stakes for all of our characters are raised exponentially as “The Raven Cycle” takes its darkest turn yet. I was immersed in the story progression, sufficiently eeked out by the horror elements, and I had my heart pummeled. Bring on the end, Stiefvater! I’m ready.

Serena’s Rating 8:

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves.”

Joint Review: “The Dream Thieves”

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This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the second in the series, “The Dream Thieves.”

Book: “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: Both got the audiobook from the library!

Book Description: If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

Of The Raven Boys, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Maggie Stiefvater’s can’t-put-it-down paranormal adventure will leave you clamoring for book two.” Now the second book is here, with the same wild imagination, dark romance, and heart-stopping twists that only Maggie Stiefvater can conjure.

Kate’s Thoughts:

After reading “The Raven Boys” I wasn’t in the biggest rush to read “The Dream Thieves”. It wasn’t that I didn’t like “The Raven Boys”, because I did. But I wasn’t absolutely entranced by it, as while it was supernatural and supposed to be creepy, it didn’t quite live up to my probably unfair and impossible standards. But then I was looking at the audiobook selection from the library, and I saw that “The Dream Thieves” was available. And not only was “The Dream Thieves” available, my absolutely favorite audiobook reader, Will Patton, was the one who was reading it. So that clinched it. It was on.

So I don’t know if it was the Patton factor or what, but I ended up enjoying “The Dream Thieves” more than I did “The Raven Boys”. Okay, no, I take that back. It wasn’t the Patton factor, as potent and aggressive as that may be. It was because this book focused on Ronan Lynch, my favorite Raven Boy. Ronan is angry and brooding and emotionally unstable, so of COURSE I can’t help but love him to bits. And in this book not only is he given the spotlight, his personality and back story is explored quite a bit, so we get to see why he is so volatile and angry. We find out more about Ronan’s abilities in this book specifically the fact that he can pull objects and beings out of his dreams. Now that Cabeswater’s ley lines have been fully awakened, this ability has become more powerful. He’s taking not only objects out of his dreams, but creatures as well, creatures that aren’t exactly friendly. Along with this he is still affected and traumatized by the murder of his father, a tragedy that has connections to the present day situation with Glendower and the ley line, and to the fact that his mother has been comatose since. So as far as I’m concerned, Ronan has earned any and all of the angst that he’s showing. Along with the angst we got to see a softer side of him as well, not only with his younger brother Matthew, but also with Adam Parrish. Because Ronan is secretly in love with Adam. Which, of course, made me squee like an idiot. Seeing Ronan struggle with his past, his feelings, and his abilities were wonderful explorations.

Ronan wasn’t the only character to be explored more in depth in this book. We also got to see more of Adam and his own connection to the Ley Line and Cabeswater. Adam has always felt inferior to his group of friends because of their wealth and privilege, a fact that has never really been made easier by Gansey, whose good intentions are received as condescending more than kind. Adam is convinced that Gansey pities him and will hold his generosity over his head, and their relationship is heavily strained because of this. And to heap on the baggage afforded to Adam this time around, Blue, realizing she doesn’t share his feelings, dumps him. Sad for Adam. But AWESOME for me! I was worried that we were going to be subjected to this tired and annoying trope for the entire series, but NOT SO!

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Words cannot express the joy. (source)

But Adam’s worth, perhaps unseen by him, becomes far more clear in this book. Noah is a ghost. Ronan is a Dream Weaver. And Adam seems to be a little bit psychic. Which super, super intrigued me going further into this series. That, and the feelings that Ronan has for him. Really for me, “The Dream Thieves” was all about Ronan and Adam.

AHHH, and the psychic women that live with Blue, but I feel like I’ve rambled enough. Just know that Maura, Calla, Persephone, and Orla also get stuff to do in this book, and that they also get depth. Noah gets depth too, and his relationship with Blue gets a very sweet aspect to it. Let’s just say that ghosts don’t need to worry about dying if a girl whose kiss is prophetically deadly kisses them. I loved it. I loved so much about this book.

“The Dream Thieves” was the book that got me fully invested in “The Raven Cycle.” It’s blend of fantasy, the supernatural, and teenage suds makes it a super fun book and really gave the series the oomph I was looking for.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I second everything that Kate said, so I will try and discuss different points than the ones that she has already covered.

First off, the fantasy element is given a big injection of adrenaline in this book. While bits were sprinkled around quite nicely in the first book, that initial groundwork pays off big in this book. Magic is suddenly more than just a mysterious forest that appeared in the countryside. It’s alive and walking around in both Ronan and Adam. Ronan’s dreamer-abilities are so astounding and seemingly limitless. While also completely terrifying, which saves it from feeling like a magical “get out of jail free” card for any future problems. And Adam’s connection with Cabeswater is more complicated than it had at first seemed.

I’ll discuss Adam mostly, since Kate covered Ronan for the both of us. Oh, poor sweet Adam. Nothing is easy for him in this book. His hasty deal with Cabeswater comes with more strings attached then he had expected. And I loved the parallels that were drawn between the darkness that was imposed on this connection because of a lack of understanding on Adam’s part of what exactly it was that he agreed to. Looking life in the eye, looking one’s own flaws in the eye, and finding that clear-eyed honesty, while terrifying, is important to growth. Adam’s personal history is tragic, and I appreciated the honesty with regards to the effects that this would have on Adam’s life and ability to form healthy relationships around himself. His friendship with Gansey is pushed right to the breaking point and made me want to cry for them both. They were both just TRYING SO HARD and still not able to truly communicate their feelings.

And, importantly, while it is noted that nothing that had happened in Adam’s family life was his own fault or deserved or in any way not awful, I appreciated the fact that Adam wasn’t let off the hook for his own bad behavior. It’s completely understandable why he is the way he is, but Blue’s reaction to him behaving very poorly was so appropriate and something that Adam needed to go through to really gain self acceptance (not that he’s there yet, but there were steps).

This tied into my concern from the first book about the love triangle. There is no love triangle! Thank heavens. Just a natural, teen romance where you can fall equally out of interest as you did in, and that’s all ok. Blue is sad that she doesn’t feel as Adam does, but she’s honest with herself and, eventually, with him as well. There’s no dramatics, other than usual heartbreak, and both determine that their short lived romance can be turned into friendship with a little work. And Blue doesn’t suddenly fall head over heels for Gansey either. It is clear that they are both becoming more aware of their own feelings, and, in Blue’s case at least, this comes with a lot of adjustment needing to be made to her original judgements.

I also can’t end this review without mentioning Kavinski. Want to talk about a complicated, heart breaking story? Ronan’s angst and inner struggles are so perfectly paired against this completely new character (can I just say how impressed I am by Stiefvater’s abilities to manage so many characters and give them all so much depth in so few pages??). Kavinski is what Ronan could so easily have been without his friends and it is heartbreaking. Even as Kavinski spirals out of control, you can’t help but feel a deep ache for him.

I was already enjoying this series with “The Raven Boys,” but this book really sealed the deal for me!

Kate’s Rating 8: All of the characters are back and better than ever, and Ronan gets some back story and some delicious brooding time and cool magic. A great fantasy read.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very strong second showing. The fantasy elements were great, and the increased focus on complicated character like Ronan and Adam was appreciated.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Dream Thieves” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys”

Joint Review: “The Raven Boys”

The Raven Boys

This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we start with the first book in the series, “The Raven Boys.”

Book: “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: Serena got the audio book from the library, and Kate got the print version from the library.

Book Description: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I had heard a lot about this series before I started the first book. All three of the first books were already published and raved about. So, I was nervous. I’ve been burned by the YA hype machine in the past. Further, I had read “Shiver” a few years ago, and while I thought the writing was lovely, I wasn’t overly impressed by yet another werewolf love story, even if the fantasy elements were more creative than one typically finds in the tried and true genre of werewolf romance! But, color me surprised! “The Raven Boys” was a very enjoyable reading experience!

One assumption I made from reading the jacket description and from previous experience with young adult fantasy fiction was that this was going to be Blue’s story. Blue’s perspective. Blue’s thoughts and feelings. I was surprised and so pleased to find that it was more than that. The concept of the story felt like it was primed for a “special snowflake” character basking in the attention of a bunch of boys. But instead we have Blue as only one of several characters who have formed deep and complicated friendships with one another. Indeed, Blue is the most recent addition, so in this book the friendships between Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah were the deeper and more interesting relationships, with Blue’s “new comer” status serving as a portal into this world for the reader.

Adam and Gansey have a particularly trying relationship and there were several moments when I just wanted to bang their heads together. But this reflects Stiefvater’s success to not only depict a realistic male friendship, one that is challenged by the strong personalities and differing perspectives of each member, but also of the real and deep seeded effects of privilege and how formative unique life experiences are on the way that individuals approach life and decision making. Kate talks about this a bit more, but I was really impressed by the careful and very true handling of many hard subjects.

And, impressively, I wasn’t overly bothered by what seemed to be the set up for a love triangle. Maybe it was the absence of the hyperbolic language that usually accompanies this trope. The girl is always “torn” between “two great loves” and “oh my, what can she do she just can’t pick they’re both so hawttttt!” This is a much more honest approach to teen relationships. Boy meets girl. Maybe they’re interested. Maybe they’re not. They’re not quite sure. Let’s maybe see? Still, though, finishing the book, I wasn’t convinced that this element added to the book, necessarily. Sure, it didn’t detract from it in the way I typically expect, but it also wasn’t making headway in any direction that felt necessary. I was curious and a bit apprehensive for how this would be resolved going forward.

While the fantasy was light in this book, I enjoyed what we had of it. If anything, the light sprinkling of details made these fantastical elements feel as if they were knitted into a “real world” setting in a much more believable way than other examples I can think of where BAM magic arrives!

I also listened to this as an audio book and I can’t rave enough about the reader Will Patton. He is by far the best reader I’ve come across in my forays into audiobook. He commits so fully to the reading, varies is voice expertly for all the different characters ( to the point where I could tell from the first sentence of each chapter whose perspective it was from simply by the adjusted cadence to Patton’s voice), and slows/speeds/emotes/ in line with what is happening in the story. I honestly worry that I loved this book more than I would have reading it simply on the grounds that his narration was so amazing.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I picked up the print version of “The Raven Boys” a couple years ago as part of my stack for a vacation. I have fond memories of reading this book, about ghosts and the supernatural and other spooky themes, while staying in a supposedly haunted hotel room in America’s Most Haunted City (aka, Savannah, Georgia). Because how appropriate, right?! While reading this book, however, I remember not being as impressed by it as I had hoped I would be. I really liked the characters as they were presented to us, and I liked the idea of Blue’s psychic family and her ability to feed psychics as her power. I just didn’t find the central conflict in this one very intriguing. The main villain didn’t do much for me, and even though I liked the lay line storyline, I wasn’t totally sold. What sells me about this book is Blue, her household, and her Raven Boys. I’m someone who has always gravitated towards platonic male friendships ever since I was a small girl, and therefore seeing Blue’s friendships with Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah really resonated with me.

I also really liked how well thought out the town of Henrietta was in this book. Stiefvater did a very good job of making a fictional small town community, with the ups and downs that a small town community has. The age old conflict between the privileged students of the local school and the townies is very present in this book, and the reader can understand both sides that these characters are coming from. I especially like how naively good Gansey is when it comes to Adam, who is a student at the school on scholarship but lives in a poverty stricken and abusive household. Gansey sees Adam as his best friend, but there will always be that conflict there because of the class divide. I also find it very realistic that while Blue and Gansey are very clearly drawn to each other in this book, that class thing is there for them as well, which in turn makes her feel more comfortable with Adam. Can you say ‘love triangle’?

That was another big problem I had with this book, outside of the weaker supernatural plot. I am totally sick of seeing love triangles in YA fiction. It is so overdone and it is a lazy way to add conflict. I was none too happy to see that this trope was being trotted out again in a book that otherwise had some really lovely platonic interactions between Blue and all of her Raven Boys.

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(source)

I actually think that “The Raven Boys” is, for me, the weakest in the series. Stiefvater did a lot with the characters since the beginning, and their growth is evident.

Serena’s Rating 7: Great start to a series, appropriately laying the ground work, though the romantic angle was questionable.

Kate’s Rating 7: Lovely characters and a great setting made for a good start, though the main conflict of the story did not interest me as much as I’d hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven Boys” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Joint Review: “Jane Steele”

25938397Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. 

Book: “Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye

Publishing Info: G.P. Putman’s Sons, March 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!;

Book Description: “Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
 
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
 
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I didn’t discover “Jane Eyre” until a couple years ago, but when I did I immediately fell in love with it. I loved Jane, I loved Rochester, I loved the broody star-crossed romance between them, and I loved how brassy and spitfire Jane was. It has now become one of my very favorite “classic” novels, and I am always on the look out for a good interpretation of it, or a good retelling. I can say, safely, that this search hasn’t always borne the best kind of fruit. One that stands out in particular was the book “Jane Eyre Laid Bare” by Eve Sinclair, and boy was THAT a huge miss for me. Essentially it was “Jane Eyre” but with erotic sex scenes sprinkled throughout, and that doesn’t really offend me on paper. What offends me is that it ends after she leaves Thornfield Hall the first time, and it made Rochester into a submissive slave for his dominatrix crazy wife in the attic, who wants Jane as her new sub.

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I want my Jane and Rochester romance brooding, but not creepy. (source)

Luckily, “Jane Steele” is a much better interpretation of the source material. It isn’t so much a retelling of “Jane Eyre,” as much as it is an homage to the themes of it. Jane Steele is certainly an orphan girl with a cruel aunt, who goes to a boarding school, and ends up as governess to a girl in a sweeping mansion on the moors… But she’s also a fan of “Jane Eyre” the novel. Oh, and she’s a serial killer, though I would argue that in most cases she is completely justified in what she is doing, so to try and paint it as such seems a bit dishonest. In fact, I think that was my biggest frustration with the book, in that I thought it was going to be about a crazy version of Jane who kills mercilessly. But it wasn’t. But ultimately, that was okay.

I liked Jane Steele as a narrator and protagonist quite a bit. True, I sometimes found the winking at the reader airs about her to be a bit much, but overall I found her to be well rounded and I found her to be a good proxy for the original Jane. Her hardships at home and at school always felt very real, talking about the way that women during the time period were mistreated and abused in a very realistic way. In fact, up until we got to the stuff at Highgate House, where Charles Thornfield (the Rochester Proxy) lived, which also happened to be her childhood home, I was totally on board with this book. Regretfully, it was when she started the part I was most anticipating that it started to lose a bit of its luster for me. Charles was fine. I really liked his butler/friend Sardar, who is Sikh. Charles and Sardar fought together during the Sikh Wars, and I really liked that Faye didn’t just ignore the British imperialism that was going on at the time and the consequences it had for those that it was conquering. Unfortunately, Sardar and his deep and complex friendships with Charles and Jane aside, Jane and Charles didn’t have the oomph and chemistry that Jane Eyre and Rochester Proxies NEED TO HAVE. They need to smolder, and Jane and Charles didn’t do that for me.

The murder scenes are rightfully gruesome though! I liked seeing Jane Steele going out there and perpetrating various crimes of revenge. I think that had some of these cases addressed been a bit more shades of grey it would have given the story more literary clout.  On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a power fantasy of women getting revenge on those who have abused them or abused other women. Sometimes that can be satisfying, too. The villains in this book are almost always White Men with Too Much Power, and given that British imperialism during the time period that “Jane Eyre” was written in was very much the name of the game, it was very nice to see that turned on it’s head.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed “Jane Steele.” As far as homages to “Jane Eyre” go, this one is a true winner.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I remember growing up and hearing over and over again that “Jane Eyre” was my mother’s favorite book. It was a yearly read for her. Around middle school, I discovered Jane Austen, another favorite of my mother’s and an author who was often mentioned in conjunction with her raves of “Jane Eyre.” So, after finishing all of Austen’s works, it was a natural jump to this. Unfortunately, this jump might have been my first mistake. Having come off the witty, light, and comedic notes that Jane Austen is known for, “Jane Eyre”‘s much darker, angsty tone didn’t sit quite right for me. I found the tone of the book glum, and while I like Jane Eyre as a character, I thought that Rochester was generally a jerk towards her and that she could do better. I thought this even before getting to the “hidden crazy wife in the attic” part. Now, as an adult, I have re-read it and appreciated it more. But, while I can completely see how this book became a favorite for Kate (whose love of brooding men knows no limit!), it still never hits quite the right notes for me, especially in the romance department. All that said, I still enjoyed it and was very intrigued by the concept of this book. Bizarrely, I assumed that making Jane Eyre a serial killer might actually lighted up the original tale, and in some ways, I think this was right. I mean, what a crazy idea! But it works!

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this novel. The language was seamless and appropriate to the time. I think this is often one of the greatest challenges of retellings of classic novels. Authors attempt to mimic speech patterns and language choices and either wildly miss the mark or come across as trying too hard. So, too, it is too easy to superimpose modern sensibilities on historical time periods, thus completely undermining aspects of society and worldviews that are imperative to the original story. In both of these ways, “Jane Steele” was a success. The challenges Jane faced were realistic and appropriate to the time. And while reacting with murder was certainly not the common approach, her motivations and methods were believable.

As Kate mentioned, one problem with this concept was the way the book was advertised: “Jane Eyre as a serial killer!” as well as the way Jane Steele refers to herself as a murderer throughout the book. Perhaps this has to do, again, with modern perspectives looking in on these situations, but I, like Kate, found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with Jane’s inability to accurately assess the context behind many of her supposed murders. Unfortunately, for me, this problem also undermined an important moment in the conclusion of the novel. The build up and resolution didn’t seem to fit. But, on the other hand, this could just be a case of an unreliable narrator, and in many ways it’s understandable. Just slightly frustrating for the reader.

I actually really enjoyed Jane’s time at Highgate House. Perhaps because I wasn’t fully on board with Jane/Rochester in the original, the changes to the type of relationship and interactions between Jane and Charles didn’t bother me as much. If anything, for me it was still too similar. I don’t know, brooders aren’t my type!

I definitely agree with Kate, however, that a strength of the book was its secondary characters and the backstory for Charles and Sardar with the Sikh Wars. Their history was complicated and interesting, and their child ward was much more engaging than Adele was in the original.

I enjoyed the call backs to “Jane Eyre,” particularly when Jane Steele called the character out on choices that I, too, found questionable in that book. However, I also agree with Kate here that some of these winking nods could also interrupt the novel and be slightly jarring in tone. I like where the author was going with it, but at certain points, it felt like she was trapped by her own idea a bit.

All in all, I very much enjoyed “Jane Steele.” As a fan of historical novels, this book landed well. As I first mentioned, the biggest challenges (the language and the adherence to the structures of society in that time period) were handled aptly. And while I did have a few criticisms, I would highly recommend this book to fans of “Jane Eyre.” You don’t have to have read the original, but I guarantee a basic knowledge of that book will improve your reading enjoyment of this.

Kate’s Rating 8: A tense and fun read, with lots of “Jane Eyre” love to go around. I just wish the romance was stronger.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong retelling that doesn’t fall into the common traps for historical retellings. The unreliable narrator was both a plus and a negative, however.

Reader’s Advisory

“Jane Steele” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Derivatives of Jane Eyre”, and “Female Anti-Heroines”.

Fine “Jane Steele” at your library using WorldCat!

Have Some Pride! YA Fiction with LGBTQ Themes

Pride is the time of year where members of the LGBTQ community can celebrate who they are and the communities that they are a part of, and promote civil rights and visibility for these communities. Given the recent violence in Orlando, threatened violence at other Pride events, and oppressive and discriminatory bathroom laws targeting trans people, it has become abundantly clear that Pride is still very important and necessary, and that the fight for safety and dignity has a long ways to go. Though June is the official Pride Month, Pride events happen throughout the summer. So we thought that it would be fun to give our recommendations for Young Adult literature with LGBTQ themes! Lots of great books with LGBTQ characters have come out of the YA writing community, and these are just a few of many great works.

11595276“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is an orphan living in rural Montana in the 1990s. Her parents were killed in a car accident at the same time that Cameron was having her first kiss with her best friend, Irene. Sent to live with her conservative Christian Aunt Ruth, Cameron does her best to fit in and hide her sexuality. That is, until she meets Coley, a spunky and chipper cowgirl. Cameron and Coley become fast friends, but when their relationship goes to a new level, Cameron is sent to a camp that is supposed to ‘cure’ gay and lesbian teens. This book is a tale of first great love, great heartbreak, and an empowering coming of age story. Filled with pathos and hope, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” will make you cry, think, and smile.

“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo 26156987

Moving to live with her father and starting a new school is a new beginning for Amanda. Small town Tennessee is very different from Atlanta, but Amanda is starting to adjust. She makes some very close girl friends, and starts to fall in love with sweet and sensitive football player Grant. But Amanda is worried, because she is trans, and is scared that if everyone found out she would be humiliated, ostracized, or much, much worse. Written by Meredith Russo, a trans woman, “If I Was Your Girl” is a story about being yourself and finding acceptance. It’s also on this list because Russo has a lot of background notes and information for trans teens and trans allies alike. Amanda’s story is one that is so very important in a time of laws like HB2.

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“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Bejamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante are as dissimilar as you can be, Ari being an angry teen who resents the life he’s living, and Dante a gentle soul with a quirky worldview. But after a chance meeting at the local swimming pool, a connection is formed and the two develop a beautiful friendship and come to more deeply understand themselves through the other’s eyes. It is also worth noting that Serena made the poor decision of bringing this book along with her when she was getting her tires changed one afternoon, and then spent the whole time sobbing into the book while trying to avoid eye contact with the very confused, 40-something year old men all sitting in the lobby with her. And Kate read it on a plane and bawled her eyes out for everyone to see while her husband pretended to not know her. It was awkward for both, but a testament to the true beauty and poignancy of this story.

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“Huntress” by Malinda Lo

The prequel to the also Malinda Lo’s also excellent novel “Ash,” “Huntress” follows the story of two teenage girls who set out on a quest to restore order to a failing world. As even this list highlights, many of YA LGBTQ stories out there take place in a real world setting, so this fantasy novel featuring a beautiful, slow-burn romance between two girls is a bit of a rarity. What’s more, Lo creates a world where the two girls’ sexuality is not a cause for them to be ostracized, which allows the author to explore other challenges for her characters and present a wholly new story.

13262783 “Every Day” by David Levithan

“A” wakes up every day in a different body and lives the life of that person. For just one day. The next “A” is someone else. Boy, girl, rich, poor, able-bodied, disabled. To survive, “A” creates a set of rules to follow to preserve sanity. Until “A” meets a teenage girl named Rhiannon and finds someone to spend every day with. Levithan takes what sounds like an absolutely bonkers premises and uses it to explore such a wide variety of world views and life styles. The fact that “A” lives life every day in a different body leaves the character’s sexuality as one that goes deeper than gender. “A” loves Rhiannon, regardless of the gender “A” currently inhabits.

These are our YA LGBTQ picks. What are some of your favorites?