Book Club Review: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories”

We 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 “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

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! 

24561496Book: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” by Ellen Oh (Editor)

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Kate’s Thoughts

The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is one that I have been following for a bit now. Basically, it’s goal is to promote, publish, and highlight books by diverse authors, and tell stories of many different viewpoints and experiences, especially in children’s and young adult literature. When our dear friend and fellow librarian Alicia picked the short stories collection “Flying Lessons” for our book club, I threw it on my request list and got it almost immediately. I also happened to read it during the first attempt this administration made on implementing a travel ban into this country. So yeah, this felt like a very pertinent read, especially since the hope is that diverse books will build empathy to other experiences.

Like most short stories collection, it had some highs and lows. But luckily, it was mostly highs! I really liked the varied authors that contributed to this, and how they all offered so many different kinds of stories without feeling like a box was getting checked off. I expected no less from Ellen Oh, one of the instrumental members of We Need Diverse Books. I will focus on my two favorites.

“Sol Painting, Inc” by Meg Medina: I love the other books by Medina that I’ve read (“Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”; “Burn, Baby, Burn”), and I was very excited to see that she had a story in this collection. She does a great job of showing one snippet of a day in the life of Merci, Roli, and Mr. Sol, who are Latinx and have a family painting business. While Mr. Sol and and younger sister Merci really love this business, so much so that Merci wants to open her own home improvement empire someday, the elder brother, Roli, is starting to feel embarrassed by it, and would prefer to focus on science things. Medina does a great job of showing the discomfort that Roli has surrounded by his very white peers in a very white space when they go to paint the high school gym, in exchange for tuition for Merci. This story also feels very real in Merci’s voice, as she is the narrator. She doesn’t understand her brother’s self loathing or her father’s self sacrificing. This is probably the saddest story in the bunch, but it was my favorite.

“The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin: Lin takes us back in time to long ago China. It follows the story of Lingsi, a servant girl who is also educated, as it was her mother’s dying wish and her mistress, fearful of being cursed with bad luck, agreed. Lingsi and her house are traveling to try and find a wife for the only son of the family, a cruel and idiotic lout. But as they are traveling, they are attacked by pirates, and Lingsi finds herself in a very surprising situation. I loved Lin’s story telling in this one, as I could totally see everything and hear everything with perfect clarity. It was also neat seeing a surprising feminist twist within this story. No spoilers here. But let’s just say that there is a history of female pirates during this time period. This story was fun and definitely satisfying.

I really liked “Flying Lessons”, and I think that it’s a great collection of short stories that all kids will love.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m always a bit hesitant about short story collections for a few reasons. First is the same reason that Kate laid out earlier and is true to a certain extent with this one: there can be a variety in quality from one story to another which can be an off-putting reading experience. Secondly, writing a short story is a completely different beast than writing a novel, a fact that I think many authors tend to forget and that then leads to questionable short story collections. Publishers simply paste all the big author names together on one title and think it’s a clear win, with no understanding that many of the skills and traits that make an author successful as a novelist may not carry over to a short story collection.

So, with all of this in mind, I was hesitant about this book, especially as it was often marketed and sold on the fame of the authors’ works it included. But, while there were a few misses, I was happy with the collection as a hole and there were a few stories that particularly stuck out. Kate already discussed two of my favorites, but I’ll throw in a third.

“The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist: This story follows Isaiah Dunn, a young boy coping with the death of his father and with his mother’s subsequent fall into alcoholism. Just with that short description, you know going in that this was one of the heavier titles in the book. But this story was so incredibly powerful for it! Grief itself is a huge subject, but the story also touches on so many other factors that all get swirled together in a the life-changing impact that comes with the loss of a parent. The trying economic situation of the family, the mother’s coping method, and the hope that can be found amidst it all is beautifully illustrated in this tale. I particularly appreciated the rather meta use of the power of stories that is brought to being in this story after Isaiah finds a old book of his father’s stories. Isaiah’s voice is also particularly strong, effectively portraying the innocence of childhood but never short-changing his ability to deeply understand the world around him.

As Kate said, there were a few weaker stories included, but even these would likely be well-received by the middle grade target audience of this book. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection and its ability to tell important stories without falling under the weight of too much “agenda.”

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun, touching, and varied collection of stories from some of the best children’s and YA authors out there.

Serena’s Rating 8: What else should we have expected from this strong collection of children’s/YA authors? Its strength lies largely in the variety of stories included, both in tone and subject matter.

Book Club Questions:

1.) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2.) Were there any stories that didn’t work for you as well?

3.) This book sets out to present a very diverse collection of stories. Are there any perspectives that you felt were missing?

4.) Were you familiar with any of these authors before? Did any of them have particular writing strengths that appealed to you?

5.) A lot of thought goes into the order in which stories are arrange din a short story collection. Were there any changes you would make to this line up and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flying Lessons and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”, and “YA Short Stories and Collections”.

Find “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #7 “The Stranger”

51s1mxgi0qlAnimorphs #7: “The Stranger”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel and the other Animorphs have finally found the new entrance to the Yeerk pool. They’ve even figured out a way to sneak in. The infamous roach morph. But they didn’t count on roaches being a Taxxon delicacy. This time escape doesn’t look so good.

And then everything stops. Everything. The feasting Taxxon, the human-Controllers, the Hork-Bajir. Time. Now Rachel, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Tobias, and Ax are in for their wildest trip ever. They’re going to get the chance to decide whether they want to stay on Earth and fight the Yeerks. Or go to another planet. And the guy giving them the choice says he can save them. Now all they have to do is make the choice…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: So much happens in this book! We have major family drama in Rachel’s personal life, with her father moving to a new city/state and asking Rachel to come live with him. We have a the re-discovery of a Yeerk pool entrance and a rather disastrous trip down. We meet an all-powerful alien creature called an Ellimist who offers to whisk the Animorphs, their families, and a few select humans away to a new planet to re-start the human race, claiming the war on Earth is lost. We have time travel. We have new morphs. We have major wins and major loses. And again, this is a tiny, tiny book!

As highlighted above, the main drama for this book comes with the arrival of the Ellimist and his offer to save the Animorphs. After deciding against his offer the first go around, the Animorphs all sink into a very dark place, but Rachel especially, questioning their motivation to continue fighting a war that they are being told is unwinnable. In an attempt to convince them for a second time, the Ellimist jumps them all forward in time to a version of their city that is now completely overrun by Yeerks. The school is laid to waste with skeletons of teachers left at their desks. The mall is a hive for Taxxons. And Rachel meetings a chilling older version of herself who now a Controller herself and palling it around with Visser Three.

After being returned to their own time, however, the group begins to question what they have seen. Future Visser Three’s strange reaction to Ax (being surprised that he was there), and the seemingly endless power of the Ellimist himself, leads the group to wonder at the elaborate methods being used to convince them and the inevitability of this so-called future. They come to the conclusion that the Ellimist is playing his own game within the structure of the rules imposed on him  by his kind. He has said that he’s not allowed to interfere, only to save the group. But through his interactions with the Animorphs he has saved them once (freezing time the first time he meets them when they are about to become Taxxon chow and allowing them an opportunity to spot an exit) and then showing them key intel  by transporting them to the “future” (they spot one skyscraper from the old city skyline that has  been left untouched). They are able to deduce that this skyscraper is where the Yeerks are storing the Kandrona, the food source that is transmitted to the Yeerk pool and sustains the Yeerks when they swim in it every three days. Back in their own time, the Animorphs are then able to use this knowledge to infiltrate and destroy it, marking a major win for the group.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Applegate sure doesn’t cut Rachel any breaks in this book. In a nice (terrible, for Rachel, at least!) little parallel story, Rachel’s dad asks her to decide whether she wants to move to another city and live with him. With this decisions comes many pros: a renewed dedication to gymnastics, a sport her father wants to help her pursue, a closer relationship with her father, and, of course, the chance to live a “normal” life far away from the constant fear of war and the stress she feels from the role she has taken on in the group as the de facto “courageous” one. I really liked how much thought and page time was given to this story line. In a tiny book that is jam packed with tons of action and high stakes, it is impressive that we get a very fleshed out take on the hardships of this decision as well and the stress it puts on Rachel. She loves her dad. But she also loves her mom and sisters who she would be leaving behind. She feels obligated to stay in the war against the Yeerks and has begun to resent being taken for granted by the group to make the tough calls. But she also loves her friends and can’t abandon them. It’s no wonder that she has several different break downs in this book.

Here we se even more how boxed in Rachel feels by the others’ impression of her. They take her courage and willingness to fight for granted, never considering the emotional toll it is taking on her. When the Ellimist first asks them to vote, they don’t even ask her, they just assume she’ll say “no.” And then she realizes that she would, but not just because that what she feels is right, but because they all respect her and look up to her and she doesn’t want to let them down. This constant tension between being strong for the others while repressing her true feelings (she can be hurt and scared as much as the rest of them, and her fear for her family and the temptation of the Ellimist’s offer is just as strong as well) leads to spiral in the middle of the book. Not only does she snap in front of her friends, yelling at them that she’s not invincible and fearless, but she’s the first to begin using morphing as a coping tactic, hiding in the simple-mindedness of her eagle form to escape. She also seeks out a stronger  battle morph, a grizzly, on her own. Several bad decisions here. First, the Animorphs have to touch an animal to acquire its DNA, so going it alone to get face to face with a grizzly with no back up is really dumb. And then, she never practices the morph, which we have all learned in mistake numero uno and thus has some control issues when she first uses it in the midst of battle. Her bear morph is really the only thing that gets them all through, its brute strength being the tipping point in their favor against tons of Hork-Bajir, so none of them can get too mad at her, but there are still “stern talks” from Jake about these poor decisions.

Our Fearless Leader: Dear Jake is a hold out both times against the Ellimist’s offer to save themselves and his family. It’s another testament to his role as the rock of the group, not one to be easily swayed against the mission or abandon the war they are fighting. He’s also the most upfront against Cassie who sides

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias yet again proves that he is the most dedicated to the fight against the Yeerks. He not only never considers the Ellimist’s offer to give up the fight, but is savvy enough to realize that he is being used against his friends. (The Ellimist returns him to his human form during these interactions and promises to allow him to remain that way if they accept his offer). He calls the Ellimist out on attempting to leverage their love of him to manipulate them into accepting so as to spare him a return to life as a hawk. Have I mentioned that I love Tobias?? It’s also fun seeing him pair up with Marco in the beginning of the book to discover an entrance to the Yeerk pool. It makes sense that he would do something like this having tons of time on his…er…wings, and Marco/Tobias is a team up that we don’t often see, so it was a fun twist.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, I really do try with Cassie, and there are times (like in the last book specifically) where I really love her character. But she immediately signs on to what the Ellimist is offering, and while I can see this being a true reaction for her character (approaching it as a human would view saving a few animals of an endangered species), I still have trouble respecting much of her thinking in many of the books, and this one in particular. Her lens often feels so narrowly focused that she isn’t as sympathetic as the others to me. Yeah, yeah, she loves animals and peace…but this is a really cowardly decision (not necessarily the choice as a whole, since we see the shades of grey as the rest of the Animorphs continue to struggle with the idea, but the fact that she rationalizes it so quickly). The fact that she so easily goes for it, even with characters like Ax who, presumably, knows more about this new creature than she does, is strongly warning against it, just sticks in my craw and continues to highlight what drives me nuts about her as a character. I mean, she’s the ONLY ONE who signs up immediately…that says something, I think.

The Comic Relief: As I’ve said so many times, Marco is the brains of the operation, proving it yet again by setting up the plan to track down an entrance to the Yeerk pool, along with Tobias. Other than that, Marco is the one to change his mind on the second go-around. And, again highlighting the pressure that is put on Rachel by them all, the first reason he gives for it is Rachel’s ongoing breakdwon. If the strong one is spiraling, what are the rest of them to do? It goes a long way to highlighting how highly Marco views and relies on Rachel’s courage in this battle. It’s not just “Xena” jokes, he truly does gauge their effectiveness based on her mindset, and seeing her lose it, shakes his own dedication to the fight.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s increased knowledge of the greater galaxy as a hole is again highlighted as a unique asset to the the Animorphs. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the Andalites, through Ax, are presented as a real and flawed society. They have their own biases and false histories, as evidenced with Ax’s interactions with the Ellimist. While he is correct to warn the Animorphs that there is more to the Ellimist than he presents, his clear fear and anger towards him is a bit extreme, as we see later in the book. Further, we haven’t had an Ax book yet, and there continues to be hints here and there that Ax still doesn’t view himself as really being part of this team. He takes himself out of the vote for whether to accept the Ellimist’s offer, for example, claiming it is not up to him to decide (though Rachel rightly mentally lists him as a “no” based, again, on his unsubtly expressed opinions of the Ellimist).

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Well, first off, the fact that they were all almost eaten by Taxxons while in roach morph. But secondly, the violence! So much gross violence. Rachel gets a hand taken off in the final battle and the description it…detailed. Again, this is crazy that it was written for a middle grade audience!

Couples Watch!: While she struggles with the decision presented to her by her father, Rachel’s reaction to is fly off into the night to be with Tobias. While she doesn’t tell him everything right away, it is sweet that she clearly relies on him for emotional support. Also, when the Ellimist first appears

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only shows up in the flash forward bit of the story, but he’s as campy as ever when he does, parading around with future!Rachel.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Rachel’s breakdown to the group was really sad and hard to read. Even as a reader, we come to expect certain things from her and it is easy to forget that she’s not oblivious to the pressure that these impressions of her assert. So it’s a shock to hear her yell at her friends with a healthy dose of brutal honesty thrown in about how she’s always scared, too. Always.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They actually have some fairly good plans in this one, even going so far as to think out the bizarreness of their clothes being found left on the floor of the mall’s changing rooms (the entrance to the Yeerk pool and where they all morph to roaches). Sure, they are vastly outnumbered in their attack on the Kandrona tower, but there is really nothing to be done about that and all’s well that ends well, I guess, even with lost hands/paws in the mix.

Favorite Quote:

Ax is having trouble adjusting to the small things of life on Earth…like “human minutes”…

“You know, Ax, they’re your minutes now, too. I mean, we are all here together on good old Earth where we only have one type of minute.” – Marco

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

A major win for the Animorphs in this one, taking out the Kandrona and likely dooming hundreds of Yeerks to starvation.

Rating:

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “Survivors’ Club”

29429582Book: “Survivors’ Club” by Lauren Beukes, Dale Halverson, Ryan Kelly (Ill.), and Inaki Miranda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: One was possessed by a poltergeist. Another was trapped in a haunted house. A third had a killer doll. Ever wonder what happened to these children of the 1980s? Find out in Survivors’ Club, a new series co-written by renowned horror novelist Lauren Beukes and award-winning cover designer and illustrator Dale Halverson, with art by Ryan Kelly (Northlanders).
Having found each other over the internet, six grown-up survivors are drawn together by the horrors they experienced in 1987 when a rash of occult events occurred around the world–with fatal results. Now, there are indications that it may be happening all over again. Is it possible that these six aren’t just survivors–but were chosen for their fates?

Review: The 1980s were a very solid time for the horror movie genre. I mean, you had the release of “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Poltergeist”, “The Shining”, “The Evil Dead” (1 and 2!), and “The Thing”. That’s just to name a few. There were many, many more. It comes as a surprise to no one that I am a HUGE horror movie buff, and I have a special place in my heart for a lot of the films from that era. I am also a fan of the book “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes, the story of a time traveling serial killer who targets women with special gifts. So when I heard that she has helped write a comic series that plays homage to the horror tropes of 1980s scary movies? Well….

giphy8
(source)

I do think that for the most part, Beukes and Halverson do a good job of deconstructing and dissecting some of the best tropes from horror movies. The haunted house, the evil doll, the vengeance ghost, all of these are pretty well word territory these days. But it’s hard to deny that in a lot of these movies we are there more for the monster, and less for the victims of the monster. “Survivors’ Club” makes us focus on the victims, and how these traumatic events can irreversibly mess up their and change their lives. Deconstructing the horror genre has kind of become a popular past time in pop culture as of late, with movies such as “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon”, “The Final Girls”, and “Tucker and Dale VS Evil” taking apart the tropes and making them into something funny as well as sinister. But while “Survivors’ Club” does do that to an extent, it is far darker and quite a bit less tongue in cheek about it. It definitely asksthe questions about the actual consequences of such things, and while it was assuredly enjoyable and a cool take on it, damn was it bleak at times.

Beukes has always done a good job of creating characters that have many sides and facets, with three dimensions and flaws and strengths. My favorites in this story were Chenzira, Kiri, and Simon. Chenzira grew up as a black girl in Apartheid Era South Africa, whose activist mother was murdered for her politics. In 1987, Chenzira was playing a video game at a local arcade that eventually became malevolent and nearly destroyed everything around it. Chenzira is haunted by this incident, but is also constantly followed by the spectre of her mother. Kiri is a process server who grew up in Japan. While in school her best friend was brutally murdered…. an that is where Auntie comes in. Auntie is the vengeance ghost that has been following Kiri ever since, and Kiri feeds bad people to. She is scared of Auntie, but can’t bear to part with her. And then there’s Simon, by far the most interesting character to me. When he was a boy he lived in a famous haunted house, and he has been cruising on that fame for years, especially since he was possessed inside that house…. But there are questions as to how much of that is true. Simon is the most outwardly brash and arrogant, but he also shows the most vulnerability when it comes to his insecurities and his own personal, non demonic demons. I liked seeing the real world relevance, the interest in a monster’s humanity, and the empathy shown towards damaged souls.

However, I was disappointed by a few things in this story. The first is that while we do have some very well rounded characters, others were not as well thought out. I think the one that I was most disappointed in was Alice, the prototypical British “Bad Seed” kind of character who has a killer doll doppelgänger. She didn’t really do much in terms of growth or character development, and as one of the characters who is supposed to be more ‘grey’ in terms of her morality, I didn’t find her very interesting or intriguing, and was most frustrated with her out of all of the Survivors’ Club. I also had a hard time with how it all wrapped up. I should preface this, though: originally this comic was supposed to have twentysome issues, enough to draw out a pretty complex and fulfilling story while remaining a limited series. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only nine issues. So I would imagine that this meant, if they were given warning, that they needed wrap things up pretty quickly. And because of this, the story ends not only with some unresolved hints of a future plotline that never came to fruition, but also a quick and haphazard end that just left me feeling a bit hollow. While I don’t think there are any plans as of now for this series to be revisited, I hope that eventually something like that comes to fruition. Because as it stands now, “Survivors’ Club” is glaring in what pieces it’s missing, and how much story is left to be told.

The artwork in this book is perfect for the story at hand. The colors are both vibrant and evocative, but can also be muted and shadowy when the tone calls for it. And the detail put into the various villainous beings, especially the vengeful Auntie, is completely stunning and eye catching.

survivorsclub
Forgive the blatant picture from a comic. The page is creasing, I know… (source: vertigo comics)

I’m pleased I was finally able to get my hands on “Survivors’ Club”. While it didn’t quite live up to all my expectations, it was still a ball to read. Fans of 1980s horror really need to do themselves a favor and check this comic out. Though it’s sort of incomplete, it’s still a hoot and a pretty freaky read.

Rating 7: A pretty unique and fun story for horror movie fans, but it is wrapped up far too quickly and haphazardly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Survivors’ Club” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Retro YA Horror Books”, and “Slasher Horror” (given the time period their torments happened).

Find “Survivors’ Club” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodforged”

24611461Book: “The Bloodforged” by Erin Lindsey

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2015

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

Book Description: As war between Alden and Oridia intensifies, King Erik must defend his kingdom from treachery and enemies on all sides—but the greatest danger lurks closer to home…

When the war began, Lady Alix Black played a minor role, scouting at the edge of the king’s retinue in relative anonymity. Though she’s once again facing an attacking Oridian force determined to destroy all she holds dear, she is now bodyguard to the king and wife to the prince.

Still, she is unprepared for what the revival of the war will mean. Erik is willing to take drastic measures to defend his domain, even if it means sending Prince Liam into a deadly web of intrigue and traveling into the perilous wild lands of Harram himself.

Only the biggest threat to the kingdom might be one that neither Alix nor Erik could have imagined, or prepared for…

Review: This book needs one subtitle, and one subtitle only: “The Bloodforged: A Lesson in Going from Bad to Worse.” Not in quality, mind you. But the plot…phew! War and politics aren’t fun for anyone it seems!

The story picks up six months after the great battle that ended the previous book, and Alix’s kingdom is still very much at war. And not just any war, a war they are well on their way to losing. As Rig reports back from the front line (being now the General of the King’s armies), they only have a few months left unless they can secure aid from their neighboring countries. And thus Lindsey neatly separates all of our favorite main character off onto dangerous diplomatic missions where we spend a good amount of time wondering who has it worse.

First off, there is a major change in style for this book from the first. While it starts off from Alix’s perspective, it is quickly established that we will be following three other characters, primarily. Liam, who is sent to discover what is delaying the launch of a promised fleet of ships from the neighboring republic. Erik, who along with Alix, begins a treacherous trek through the mountains, home of the fierce mountain tribes, to reach their other neighbors who are also dilly dallying about committing to help. And Rig, back off to the front lines and tasked with holding the enemies at bay while reinforcements are begged for by the others. Alex, really, gets much less page time than the three others, and while at first I was frustrated by this change, I soon found myself equally invested in the tales of these three men.

Even more so than the first book, this second story in the series pushes even further away from any “fantasy” trappings. This book is largely about war tactics and political tactics. Again, it is hard to figure out which would  be more painful to have to deal with. Poor Liam, new to his role as crown prince, is completely out of his league trying to navigate the political maneuvering of a republic whose players are all focused more on re-election than in helping him uncover the mystery of the sabotaged fleet, all while fighting off attempts on his life. And poor Rig. Fighting a losing battle on the kingom’s borders, not knowing when or if help will arrive. Even worse, he discovers that there is at traitor in his midst. And then Erik and Alix, their perils are perhaps the most straightforward, but just as dangerous. Cold, hunger, snow, and wild tribesman who don’t turn a friendly eye on trespassers all present hindrances on their attempts to reach their allies across the mountains. All of these three stories were intriguing and I would have a hard time picking one as a favorite. This is a huge win for a second book in a series where our main character is pushed to the side in favor of splitting the narrative between three other characters who had largely been only secondary in the first book.

Another change is the shift in romance. Obviously, our newlyweds, Alix and Liam, are almost immediately separated which marks a rather distinct end to any expectations that this book was going to have much happy romantic fluff in it. Instead, the book shifts to focusing on those left on the outside of this relationship, most notably Erik who had given up his attachment to Alix in favor of supporting her and maintaining a relationship with his newly discovered brother. Turns out feelings don’t just disappear. Further, Liam is blissfully unaware of the admiration (crush) that one of his fellow soldiers has for him. I appreciated that both of these mini arcs were handled respectfully and honestly. Liam’s naivety was endearing and hilarious at times. And I just felt sorry for Erik much of the time as it was always clear that Alix’s heart was forever Liam’s.

One flaw of the book was the lack of resolution to a few key points. Liam’s admirer is never really confronted, and the story line just fades away completely in the end without it ever being addressed. More frustrating, the spy in Rig’s camp is not outed in this book as well. More so with this second point than the first, some of these dropped plotlines may be simply being left for the final book in the trilogy.

As I said, the magical aspects of this book were largely pushed to the background. However, it does come roaring back in the end of the book, though this does result in a big of a cliffhanger. So , be warned of that. This book does need to be read after the first one, and does end in such a way that would be unsatisfying if you’re not on board for a third book. And, like I said at the beginning, things go from bad to worse in many ways, so readers are left on tenterhooks for the fate of the realm and our favorite characters by the end. I have no idea how Lindsey is going to resolve all of these factors, but I’m excited to find out!

Rating 8: A solid sequel that surprised me in many ways!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodforged” is included on this Goodreads list (probably not that helpful) “Redheads”  and should be on this list (probably more helpful) “Political Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodforged” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Bloodbound”

Kate’s Review: “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF”

27415869Book: “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare (Ill.), and Natacha Bustos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Marvel Comics, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: LUNELLA LAFAYETTE IS AN INHUMAN PRETEEN GENIUS WHO WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD!

That job would be a lot easier if she wasn’t living in mortal fear of her latent Inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into – but Luna’s got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call…today! Together they’re the most Marvelous Team-Up of all – the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time? And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with a having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another – especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer-Folk – New York City’s deadliest tourists! Can Lunella handle all this turmoil… and keep herself from transforming into an Inhuman monster?

Review: So it’s been since, oh, last July since I’ve picked up and reviewed a Marvel Comic collection, which means I’m probably about due to do so. As you all know, Marvel isn’t really my scene, though I don’t begrudge people who like it (sure wish that some people would extend me the same courtesy when I say I’m a DC Fan, but oh well, no matter…). But I do have to say that I applaud Marvel in it’s quest to be more inclusive in it’s stories, even if a number of those stories don’t quite gel with me. However, I couldn’t pass up “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” when I laid my eyes on it at work recently. I had heard of it in passing, but kind of forgot about it… Until “Vol 2” was on our new Teen display. I of course had to grab “Vol.1” in that moment. Because hey, a story about a genius, African American little girl who teams up with a friggin’ DINOSAUR has got to be something special!!

And for the most part it was! It’s a pretty genius idea to take an old title like “Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur” and reframe it in a way that can introduce a new character like Lunella, a character that adds a new and needed perspective and representation. Lunella is clever and precocious, and while sometimes it teeters towards a little on the twee side she is supremely charming and very three dimensional. It was refreshing to see a character who doesn’t strive to be special when it comes to supernatural super powers, and in fact shies away from them. Lunella knows that she has the potential to transform into something inhuman because of her genetics should the Terrigen Cloud (that has transformed others) come in contact with her. And unlike some of those others, she does not want that, so she is trying her best to stop it. So I liked that she is super great and smart and clever, and in this story that’s considered enough for the reader to look up to. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have her troubles. She is isolated from her peers, isn’t stimulated enough at school, and has frustrations that no one takes her seriously because she’s a little girl, even though she is quite possibly the most intelligent character in the Marvel Universe. So seeing her try and prove herself was one of the main cruxes of this story, and definitely had a lot of emotion to it.

And then there’s Devil Dinosaur, a character from Marvel’s past that makes a ROARING COMEBACK. GET IT? In spite of the fact that this guy is an honest to God dinosaur, and has no spoken dialogue outside of noises, the illustrators did a really good job of portraying exactly what he’s feeling in any given moment through his facial expressions and body language. I LOVE me some dinosaurs, and Devil Dinosaur is absolutely delightful, and surprisingly nuanced as well. Well, sometimes. One of the appeals of this book was seeing a cute little girl interact with a giant theropod, and seeing them build a genuine affection for each other. While I think there’s still some room to grow for them in their friendship (boy is Lunetta impatient with him much of the time), you can tell it’s the start of something that is going to be very adorable and filled with a lot of heart.

Not totally certain about how I felt about The Hulk (I guess the Amadeus Cho version? I didn’t know, I had to do some research) showing up and beating up on Devil Dinosaur, even if it was to further the plot along. I know that Marvel really likes to keep their characters integrated and constantly making appearances in each others stories as of late, but that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not here for the nods to other characters in the Marvel franchise, and hey, maybe I’ve figured out one of my problems with Marvel in this moment as I type this out. Bottom line, let Lunella and Devil Dinosaur shine on their own!

The art is also pretty cute, as the colors jump off the page and both Lunella and Devil Dinosaur are totally adorable.

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BFF carved in a tree! (source)

So I’m fairly certain that I will probably keep going in this series, because it’s pretty adorable and a fun read. And it ends on something of a cliffhanger for Lunella and Devil Dinosaur. Enough so that I want to know what happens next. Lunella and Devil Dinosaur have charmed me completely! I just hope that the next one doesn’t have any pesky cameos.

Rating 7: A pretty cute comic series that brings back an old cult favorite and introduces a cute and compelling new character. But the Marvel habit of cameos does not work for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of Marvel”, and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” at your library using WorldCat!

Emily’s Corner: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!
284066Book: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami

Publishing Info: Originally published in three parts between 1994 and 1995, the English translation was published in 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: A gift from a friend in book club

Book Description: In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat.  Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.  As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria. Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.

Review: My book club did something a little different for our January read. Instead of reading the same book, we each picked out our favorite novel and did a book swap. (My pick was The Blue Castle, of course.)

The book I received was “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” by Haruki Murakami. Our book club had read his earliest work “Wind/Pinball” together, so I was delighted to receive a more recent publication. Murakami is one of those maddening geniuses who knocked it out of the park on his first try writing a novel. I had high expectations for “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and it did not disappoint.

A word on Murakami’s writing style; he takes the most mundane, ordinary situations and makes them riveting. Case in point, I started the book during Christmas break while visiting my parents. My dad asked what I was reading and I said something along the lines of “it’s about a guy and his wife, and the wife has a cat, and it goes missing, and she’s upset with the husband for not caring, so he goes to look for it, and it’s all about this tension in their marriage . . .”

Dad cut me off. “That sounds boring.”

Boring this is not! Murakami takes this story and twists it, wrenches it, in fact. It turns into this surrealist, cerebral adventure that takes on an otherworldly quality without losing its grasp on reality. It was exhausting trying to keep up and yet I couldn’t put it down.

The story twists and turns from the perspectives of the man and his search for his wife who mysteriously vanishes along with the cat, a precocious teenager so fascinated by death that she almost commits murder, bloody flashbacks to the power struggles and mind games of war-torn Manchuria, eerie sisters whose magical talents are the hub of the story, a villain who controls his victims by mentally raping and trapping them in an otherworld, and a wealthy but strange mother-son duo named after baking spices.

I get it. This sounds like an acid trip. This is not a story that you can explain by saying “and then such-and-such happened.” And for sure it is a far cry from the “man looks for lost cat” opening.

That is what is magical about Murakami; he takes you on such a slow and winding journey, where everything makes sense until it doesn’t. You look back to see how far you have come, almost unable to believe that a story about a lost cat could turn into the most violent, most beautiful, most moving thing you’ve read in years.

This book isn’t so much about the story, though it is truly a riveting story. It’s about Murakami’s way with words. He is unlike any author I’ve encountered, writing about daily activities like boiling pasta and ironing shirt collars in such a way that they become intensely beautiful rituals. Something as simple as climbing down a dry well becomes an out-of-body experience, for both the protagonist and the reader. I was gasping by the end of that chapter.

There is a horrifying torture scene, and while I normally have a very low tolerance for this sort of thing, I couldn’t help but be entranced by how Murakami achieved a level of grace and beauty in it. I was trapped between being appalled and being fascinated.

For me, Murakami’s work is about experiencing his way with words just as much as it is about getting caught up in a good story.

Rating 8: While this is one of the most incredible books I’ve read in a while, my squeamishness over the aforementioned torture scene and some terribly awkward phone sex kept this from getting a higher score. Still, this is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the cerebral/magical realism genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Magical Realism” and “Mind Twist.”

Find “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The Burning World”

16148435Book: “The Burning World” by Isaac Marion

Publication Info: February 2017, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: R is recovering from death.

He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.

But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind.

Review: This book came into the publishing world like a new Beyonce album: no word, and then suddenly it appears! I highlighted this book as one that I was looking forward to reading, but also with a bit of trepidation. “Warm Bodies” was such a beautiful, funny little book that opened and closed so neatly that the thought of a sequel had honestly never even crossed my mind. So, while I was excited to re-visit this world, especially in the aftermath of Julie and R’s discovery of re-animating (?) zombies back to humans, I was a bit concerned that it was going to succumb to sequel-itis and bring nothing new to the table while negatively impacting the brilliance of the original. And while there were a few rough patches, particularly in the beginning, I am pleased to report that Marion’s expansion to his world and series is well fleshed (ha!) out!.

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You can’t stop this laugh train! (source)

“The Burning World” picks up a few months after the events of “Warm Bodies,” and things aren’t going as smoothly as Julie and R had hoped re: reintroducing the zombies into society. I mean, in the movie version of the first book, the zombies and humans are literally playing baseball together and sharing umbrellas in the end. This book quickly does away with any of these happy fantasies. Turns out people aren’t quite as easy to convince that beings that used to kill and eat their brains are really just uber repressed people who need to reconnect with their feelings if only they’d give them all a chance! Even R himself, the protege of this whole zombie-transformation-movement is struggling with the reality of this transition. When he was cured, mobility, language, and most especially, memory didn’t suddenly just reappear. They’ve all had to be tediously re-learned, and when the story begins, it is clear that he’s hit a bit of a wall.

When I made my admittedly very bad pun about fleshing out the world, that is probably the most notable aspect of this book. Marion takes his rather simplistic little zombie world and really goes crazy with it. Half the appeal of “Warm Bodies” was the complete lack of importance that was given to the history of the world. Something went wrong, zombies appeared, and this is the hell everyone is now living in. No explanation necessary. Doing away with this charm was a risky move, but a challenge that Marion proves to be up to meeting. Not only do we get details into R’s own history, but through his patchy and slowly returning memories (present in flashbacks interspersed throughout the story) we see how broken the world really was. If anything, the world of “Warm  Bodies” was a step in the right direction from what had come before! Fractions and zealots fought for power, religion and business warred to control the minds of the people, and zombies were almost an after thought to the craziness.

One particularly, albeit smaller, detail that was brought to the table was the reality of what transforming from a zombie that can’t be killed by anything less than a shot to the head into a person entails. Nora’s story comes to the forefront as a nurse attempting to treat these re-emerging injuries. If you’re shot as a zombie, you don’t heal. Becoming human again doesn’t magically do away with life-ending injuries. This brought a level of seriousness to the procedure that I hadn’t expected, and one that is tied into a major plot line for Julie later in the book.

Most of the plot involves an airplane roadtrip across America. Julie’s home is invaded by a shadowy group with whom R is having strange kindlings of memories, forcing them to go on the run. Mixed in with the expanded world (which cities fell, which cities burned, which came up with their own rule of law), our heroes are faced with the constant question of what future they are running towards: one in which they fight or one in which they flee. I loved how these questions are never approached with an obvious answer. The characters on either side make valid arguments, and though as a reader I knew what the ultimate decision would be, I appreciated the fact that other survival techniques were not poo-pooed away.

So, I really did love much of the book. The expanded world, the added characters, R’s complicated history. However, there were a few setbacks. In the beginning especially, I felt as if the writing was a bit stilted and trying too hard as far as philosophical musings go. “Warm Bodies” hit just the right balance in this regard, and I felt like “The Burning World” suffered from the weight of expectations. Once the story really gets going, there’s enough of a structure to hang these existential musings upon, but in the beginning it just felt tedious and a bit forced.

Secondly, there was a strange “We” character that would show up between chapters. Even by the end of the book, I’m not sure what I was supposed to be getting from these chapters. And it’s not like there were only a few! There were pages of this stuff, and much of the same tedious philosophical ramblings would be crammed into this section with no character or story to really focus on. About midways through we meeting a zombie boy who becomes something of a character in these bits, but the whole thing still feels very strange and disconnected from the story. Presumably it’s building towards some sort of reveal in the final third book in this series, but in this one it felt like a distraction and an unwarranted break in the main plotline’s action.

And on that note, there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. Nothing intolerable, in my opinion, but it does end in a manner that requires a follow up read to really reach any type of resolution to both the story and character arcs. But, luckily, this was a strong enough sequel that I’m all in for the next and last book!

Rating 8: A solid, surprise follow up to a story that, previously to this, I had been happy enough seeing as complete!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Burning World” is newly released and thus not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on  “Zombies!” and should be on “Apocalypses and Dystopias.”

Find “The Burning World” at your library using Worldcat!