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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(source)

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!

Serena’s Review: “The Forgotten Sisters”

22529349 Book: “The Forgotten Sisters” by Shannon Hale

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Review: Sadly, this is the last “Princess Academy” story in the trilogy, and I was more sad to see it end than I had been expecting. While never the pinnacle of excitement, this series was a steady crowd-pleaser, and in a the book world where a series taking a sudden drop with follow up books after an excellent start is all too common, it not only maintains its core story, but goes out with a bang! I liked this third and last book almost as much as the first and more than the second.

“The Forgotten Sisters” picks up a few months after the last book, with Miri and Peder looking forward to finally returning home to Mount Eskel. But, because this is the end of a trilogy, nothing goes to plan and suddenly Miri finds herself charged to establish her very own Princess Academy for three noble-born girls who have run amok in the swampy southern lands for many years. No surprise, they are not what they first seemed and Miri quickly becomes tangled in the complicated web of politics that seems to find her wherever she goes.

This book differs from the previous two in the absence of several of the characters I had come to know and love from the previous stories. But Miri, steady and lovable Miri, is still at the center of it all. Further, while in the previous book I often found myself growing frustrated with Miri’s naivety and overly -simplified view of the world and people, in this book Miri was back on form: spunky, but grounded.

The three sisters were each a great addition to the cast. While it would be easy to pigeon-hole the girls (Astrid: the warrior! Felissa: the one who cares! Sus: the book-worm!), I found myself enjoying all three characters, most especially the way they each completed one another in their very strong, small family group. Though, Astrid, I did always picture her thusly:

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Astrid, kicking ass and taking names (source)

And, while some of my other favorite characters weren’t around much, Peder has an active role in this story. He always kind of existed on the periphery of the action in the last two novels, so it was refreshing to see him set into the spotlight somewhat. Not only did this give me for from the character, but it helped cement why Peder and Miri work together as a couple.

These are middle grade novels, however, so it must be admitted that a lot of the action gets wrapped up in a very “G rated” way. This can at times be jarring when the books are often tackling very serious issues, but things work out in the best way possible due to amazing amounts of luck and human understanding from all sides. But it’s very sweet nonetheless. That being said, this book did take a few unexpected turns into places that were quite sad. This added level of gravitas helped excuse later “easy outs.”

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and the series as a whole. When I finished the second novel in the trilogy, it was ended in such a way that could have allowed for the series to end, and if that had been the case, I would have left a bit disappointed. It was not only a relief to find out there was a third, but after reading it, this book bumps the whole series back up as a strong recommendation for any readers looking for light, middle grade fantasy, especially for young girls.

Rating 8: A great conclusion, with solid showings from staple characters and fun new additions!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Forgotten Sisters” is included on this Goodreads list: “Middle Grade Fairy Tales” and “Best Kick-Ass Female Characters From YA and Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.”

Find “The Forgotten Sisters” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Review: “Princess Academy” and “Palace of Stone”

 

Kate’s Review: “All the Missing Girls”

23212667Book: “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionLike the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

Review: Oh look, ANOTHER book that involves a missing person or persons! The good news is that once this is done we’ll kind of move away from that theme, at least for awhile. Because let’s be fair, this theme is totally a no brainer for the thriller and grit lit genre. So our most recent missing person story is “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda. This one almost made my highlights list in June, and even though it was eeked out at the last minute I still put it on request, because the buzz is that this could become another huge runaway hit. And yeah, I guess I agree with that. But unfortunately, it fell short of other grit lit books that I have read. Yes, it has a very cool frame in how it’s told, as Miranda decides to tell the main arc of the story backwards. We start at Day 15 of Annaleise’s disappearance, and work out way back to Day 1, peppering flashbacks to Corinne’s disappearance as well. A pretty strong gimmick, but the problem with gimmicks is that sometimes that is all a product has going for it. And sadly, I think that if “All the Missing Girls” was told in linear order, it wouldn’t stand out.

Nic is the standard main character in this genre: she’s emotionally a mess, she is stuck in a past that she tries to escape, and she can’t see past her current, bad situation, which them causes harm to those in her new life. It’s a character archetype in these stories that is getting a little old. I mean, the moment that she said that she had a handsome, smart, wonderful fiance named Everett I knew that poor Everett was going to be run through the ringer thanks to her shenanigans. I don’t know what rule has been written that says that these damaged women need to treat everyone who cares about them like crap, but Nic holds fast to it. Sometimes it’s done well and you can see the flaws in their loved ones who just don’t (or won’t) understand them, but in this one I just felt bad for Everett because Nic is a trainwreck. She has a strained relationship with her brother, she is still hung up on her ex boyfriend Tyler (who is ALSO a walking trope as the puppy eyed ex boyfriend whose candle still burns bright for his lost lady love), and she misses her frenemy Corinne in spite of the fact that Corinne was just the worst. Protagonists like this are so hard for me to like, because while I like that these women aren’t perfect and are complex and can be complete messes a la the guys in “True Detective” or something, it’s getting a little old.

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And honestly, “True Detective” had gotten a little old by season 2. (source)

But as far as the structure go, gimmicky as it may be, it did make the story more intriguing. I kind of had to wrap my head around it, as going backwards but revealing the truths about Corinne in a forward time was kind of a mind twister, but once I got the hang of it I did enjoy this creative choice. It also allowed us to find out the past after we got to see the present and future, and in doing so it did give some of the revelations a stronger reveal and emotional punch. It also was fun seeing that you think that you know what the solution is because you started at the end, but then as you move backwards you realize that no, you’re totally off base and so wrong. I am kind of curious if Miranda wrote it out in order first, or if she always started at the end and worked her way back to the beginning. It couldn’t have been easy, and so I do have to give her props for sticking the landing. I just wish that the story itself was stronger, to match the strong storytelling choices.

There was also a lot to explore when it came to Nic and her relationship with her father. Her Dad is suffering from dementia, and Miranda did a very good job of portraying someone who loves her father and hates to see him that way, but also gets easily frustrated and upset with him even though she knows that he can’t control his lapses. As someone who watched her mother and aunts have to deal with their dementia-ridden mother, and how hard it was, I really appreciated that Miranda showed multiple sides to how this can affect family members. While the dementia could have just been used as a plot device (and it was to an extent), it was handled with enough care that it didn’t feel cynical or clunky.

“All the Missing Girls” serves mostly more of the same, but the plot structure was pretty neat. I don’t know if I’d pick up another book by Miranda, but who knows how I will feel if another one comes out and it sounds promising. Give this a whirl if you want a new way of reading a mystery, but don’t be shocked if it feels all too familiar.

Rating 7: The way the story is framed is definitely cool and intriguing, but with weaker characters it feels like the story relies too heavily on the gimmick.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Missing Girls” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Women with Moxie”, and “Great Discussion Starters”.

Find “All the Missing Girls” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Serena’s Review: “Never Ever”

22840374Book: “Never Ever” by Sara Saedi

Publishing Info: Viking, June 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Wylie Dalton didn’t believe in fairy tales or love at first sight.

Then she met a real-life Peter Pan.

When Wylie encounters Phinn—confident, mature, and devastatingly handsome—at a party the night before her brother goes to juvie, she can’t believe how fast she falls for him. And that’s before he shows her how to fly.

Soon Wylie and her brothers find themselves whisked away to a mysterious tropical island off the coast of New York City where nobody ages beyond seventeen and life is a constant party. Wylie’s in heaven: now her brother won’t go to jail and she can escape her over-scheduled life with all its woes and responsibilities—permanently.

But the deeper Wylie falls for Phinn, the more she begins to discover has been kept from her and her brothers. Somebody on the island has been lying to her, but the truth can’t stay hidden forever.

Review: My unfortunate streak of disappointing reads continues. It always seems to happen like this, you’ll be on a roll and then BAM! A few books just fail to live up to expectations and it is very disappointing. I included this title in my “Highights” picks for June based on two things: 1) a pretty cover (my first mistake) and 2.) a Peter Pan retelling! a Peter Pan retelling! And sure, the cover lived up to its hype and is very pretty in person. The Peter Pan retelling itself, not so much.

So, first off, a Peter Pan retelling has a lot of things going for it, in theory. The fantasy set up is all there, the adventure, the story of friendship and family, and depending on the route you take, the romance. All the ingredients for things I like in my fantasy stories. And pros first, the author did have a creative take on how adapt what is a story about children into a young adult novel. It was entertaining to see the nods to the originals (though the on-the-nose naming conventions were a bit much at times. Wylie is a coyote, not a teenage girl protagonist. There’s even a bit where she talks about how much she likes her name as if, very secretly, the author could see my eyebrows raising into my hairline…). The close sibling relationship between Wylie and her brothers is sweet and reminiscent of the original, as well.

Sadly, that’s about it for things I liked from this book. My biggest problem was the writing and plotting of the story. Listen, I have read a good amount of fanfiction in my day, and there is a lot of really great stuff out there. But this? This read like the worst kind of generic, stereotypical Peter Pan fanfiction: clunky dialogue, the author’s hands all over the plot which you can spot from outer space, the worst kind of tropes. Tinka (these names!) is everything you’d guess for a Tinkerbell-like character in this type of story. At one point, Wylie, out loud in her own head, admires Tinka’s “perky breasts.”

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And the story never recovered from the very first few chapters where Wylie made repeated decisions that earned her a too-dumb-to-live badge of honor. At a party, Wylie meets a strange boy who has been staring at her from across the room. And then what does she do? Immediately leaves the party with him! Sure, she tells her friends that’s she’s leaving, but I’m awarding her zero points for this as it is still inexcusably dumb. She later consumes a very sketchy plant that he just  casually offers her at McDonald’s (where he took her, which should have been her…well, not first sign, that was much earlier…how about tenth sign to get the hell out of there). And then, after convincing her brothers to also take this plant-drug (it allows them to fly, you’d never guess!), it turns out the plant also, conveniently, knocks them all out cold when it wears off. And they wake up being born away on Phynn’s super sweet sail boat. So…Phynn pretty much rufied them all and then kidnapped them. But don’t worry, this doesn’t hinder Wylie’s insta-attraction to him.

What we all wanted from a Peter Pan lead:

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What we got from Phynn:

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I won’t bore you with a review for the rest of the book. There was a decision towards the end of the story that did finally bring a bit more creativity to the novel, but nothing could save it from what was, sadly, very poor writing. Of course, there will be sequels. I won’t be checking them out.

Rating 3: A ridiculous heroine, a creepy hero, and writing that did the story no favors.

Reader’s Advisory: This is a very new book, so it isn’t on many lists. But, as it happens, I have read some Peter Pan fanfiction in my day and much of it was lightyears better than this. One of the best Peter Pan fanfic authors I’ve found is “weezer42.” Here is her page of Peter Pan stories. “Whither by Moonlight” is probably my favorite.

 

 

 

Kate’s Review: “What She Knew”

25817531Book: “What She Knew” by Gilly Macmillan

Publishing Info: William Morrow, December 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: On audiobook from the library!

Book Description: In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.  

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking…

Review: Yeesh, as I started listening to this book I noticed something of a theme in the books I’ve been taking on lately. So many missing people and/or children! I think that had it been one or two books that had this theme I would have been less likely to notice it, but given “What She Knew” (and another one I will be reviewing at a later date), my total number of missing persons/children books in the past month will be at five. Grim, grim stuff. So the theme continues with this book, one that I had on my list for awhile and just so happened to find on audiobook download at my library. But the difference between this book and the other ones I’ve read is that this one not only deals with a missing child, but the toxic shame culture that has risen when it comes to how we perceive other’s parenting and how we express our displeasure about it. Specifically, via the Internet. Why this summer alone there have been two very high profile cases of tragedies involving children, those of Harambe the Gorilla and the Walt Disney World alligator attack. In one instance an animal was killed when a child fell into it’s enclosure, and in another instance a child was taken and killed by an alligator, which led to Disney killing more alligators in the search for the culprit. And boy oh boy did people take to the Internet to blame the parents, saying that if they had just been paying closer attention, all of this could have been avoided. I kept thinking about these cases and others as I listened to this book, as one of the most villainous culprits in this book is parent-shaming. Macmillan pulls no punches when she shows the insidious cruelty of the shame centered Internet.

The mystery to this book was pretty stellar, even though it occasionally treaded a bit towards the unhinged. There was twist after twist after twist, and since I was listening to it it wasn’t as easy to keep up with it. I couldn’t really skip back that easily, so I would just have to say ‘okay, I guess I remember this stuff’ and hope that I actually did. I think that sometimes when trying to throw out red herrings, Macmillan just went a bit overboard. First the person who did it would be Person A, then it would be Person B, then it would be Person A again, but then no wait, it’s Person C! Just a few too many flip flops for my taste. The benefit of the flip flops, though, is that I was taken by surprise as to how it all shook out, which is always a good thing when it comes to my reading materials.

The characters in this book ran the gamut from run of the mill to pretty complex. I really liked Rachel, the harried and terrified mother of the missing Ben. She was a well done picture of someone who is terrified that she has lost her child forever, and yet is willing to pull out all of the stops and kick down all of the doors in London to find him. At times I wanted to shake her and tell her to, for the love of GOD, listen to the professionals who are trying to bring your child back to you, but I am pretty sure that was the whole point. Her relationship with her older, controlling sister Nicky was one of the strongest things about this book, as they blatantly love each other fiercely, but lock horns over under the surface conflicts that aren’t apparent until later. That said, these under the surface conflicts are the product of a very out there plot twist that didn’t feel necessary. I know that it was supposed to instill doubt in the reality of their relationship (and I will leave it at that), but there were a lot of less ridiculous ways that Macmillan could maintained the doubt, in my opinion. It kind of baffled me.

I also found the parts that centered on Detective Inspector Clemo to be a bit superfluous. I liked him enough as a character, and it was nice seeing the police side of the investigation and the hindrances that they faced in this situation (probably pretty realistic hindrances), but the troubles in his personal life and his emotional problems just didn’t quite do it for me. I know that the way that it was told (as sometimes therapy transcripts were used to tell his side of the story) was just another way to make the reader wonder what was happening, but I found myself hoping that these parts of the story would go faster. It was a good dichotomy to show the police approach versus the proactive approach Rachel wanted to take, so that aspect was appreciated.

I listened to this on audiobook, and both a male and female narrator were used depending on whose side of the story was being told. Penelope Rawlings covered the Rachel parts, and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart covered Clemo. Sometimes they kind of had different cadence and voice styles for the same character, which was a little distracting, but overall I thought that they both did a good job. Rawlings especially conveyed Rachel’s desperation very well.

“What She Knew” was a good book to listen to in the car, and I enjoyed it for what it was. It’s a good story to add to the lady centered thrillers that have exploded in popularity, and I think that fans of the grit-lit genre should definitely give it a try!

Rating 7: This was a pretty tight thriller with a lot of good twists, but there were so many that it almost gave me whiplash. The narrators did a good job, and the story was satisfying, though some parts were stronger than others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“What She Knew” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Book of the Month Club Picks”.

Find “What She Knew” 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.

Serena’s Review: “Unmade”

18309803Book: “Unmade” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Random House, September 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.

Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.

Review: I finally got around to picking up the last book in the “Lynburn Legacy” trilogy. And, while I was left a bit cold by the second book in this series, I am happy to report that “Unmade” pulled the series back from the edge and ended on a solid note.

But first, before I go into any details about the book itself, can we take a moment to be aghast together at this cover? For the sake of discussion, here are the three covers in the series:

 

Obviously there was a huge shift between the first book and the second. My guess is that the first cover was coming across as “middle grade” and the publishers thought to “age it up” by switching cover art. But to this? Generic back-of-girl-walking-into-distance artwork? At least the first was interesting and unique. The second two just look like every other book on the shelf. I’ve never been a fan of the titles of these books, either. They say next to nothing about what the story is (what genre is this? what time period? what’s unique here?). And this problem is only exasperated by these generic covers. And what’s worse, by the time we get to the third one, the generic cover actually makes no sense! There is absolutely zero reference to the ocean or to Sorry-in-the-Vale even being anywhere near the ocean in these books. While the second cover at least draws feelings of mystery and suspense with a creepy woods (there is at least a creepy woods in the story), the third cover looks like something from Spring Break: Hawaii!! It’s truly awful. I have many feelings re: book covers, and usually I’m good at tamping it down, but this time…

aubreyplazano
(source)

But, enough of that, on to the review! Kami and co. start off this book in a pretty low spot. Rob Lynburn has taken control of the town, Jared is missing, presumed dead, and Kami sharing a sorcerer/source bond unwillingly with Ash. It’s all very awkward and uncomfortable. First off, I commend Brennan for “going there” with the darkness in this book. It doesn’t pull any punches with the horror of what the Lynburn legacy of magic and might stands for, and the type of rule that Rob hopes to usher back in. With that, however, comes a challenging hole to be dug out of. I was concerned that some type of magical out was going to appear, but for the most part I was satisfied with the direction this story took in its final third. While I’ve always wished for a bit more explanation into the magic system (it seems like people just “have” powers and can then do anything. Harry Potter has spoiled an entire generation to fantasy reading where we expect to hear about our characters “learning” their magic!), over all I the expanded ideas with regards to connections between sorcerers and sources was entertaining and interesting.

As I’ve said in my previous two reviews, the characters are what drive this story and the reason I kept returning to the series. Kami is such a healthy, balanced teenage girl protagonist. She struggles with not only the fantasy elements of the story, but problems that many teenagers face: shifting relationships with parents, connections with siblings, evolving friendships, and, of course, romance.

The romance is probably the weakest element of this story for me. By the end of the second book, I thought things had been largely resolved in that area and I was looking forward to a story more closely focused on plot than on the romance angst. Unfortunately, it is made a thing again. And really, because it had been seemingly resolved in the second book, it felt like hoops and out-of-character behavior had to be used to create drama in this department, a writing trope that I never appreciate. At this point in the story, especially when there were serious events going on in life, the relationship angst felt contrived and I almost was rooting for Kami to just slam the door in Jared’s whiny, mopey face once and for all. Alas, she did not. Ultimately, this also resolved itself in a surprisingly satisfying manner by the end of the book, but I feel like a lot less page time could have been devoted to the whole plot line to begin with.

There are moments of this story where the dialogue is laugh-out-loud in its witticisms, but I’ll be honest, there were a few parts that were cry-worthy as well. All in all, it was a very satisfying conclusion to a solid trilogy in the YA fantasy genre. If any of these elements are up your alley, I definitely recommend checking out this series!

Rating 7: A satisfying conclusion full of witty and fun characters!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unmade” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diversity in Young Adult and Middle Grade” and “What a Wonderful World – A Celebration of Imaginative World-Building.”

Find “Unmade” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous review: “Unspoken” and “Untold”