Serena’s Review: “Glamour in Glass”

12160890Book: “Glamour in Glass” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison…and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country’s war.

Review: The second in the “Glamourist Histories” sereis, “Glamour in Glass” resolved many of the issues I had with the first book and introduced an expanded world and magic system.

While the appeal of the first book lay largely in its comparisons to a Jane Austen novel with magic, this aspect was also its biggest downfall. Let’s face it: more often than not, being compared to a Jane Austen novel is a kiss of death for many historical books since it will only raise expectations to impossible heights. While “Shades of Milk and Honey” wasn’t sunk by the comparison, it didn’t do the story any favors either. The plot devices or characters who struck to closely to aspects of “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility,” or “Pride and Prejudice” were at best distractions and at worst lacking the heart and wit that lies at the core of these originals. However, this book, taking place after the marriage of Jane and Vincent, is freed from these comparisons as it ventures into unknown territory to Jane Austen stories: Life after the wedding.

I enjoyed reading about Jane and Vincent’s struggles learning to adjust to married life. While very much in love, the reality is that they still have much to learn about each other, both in regards to their own personal relationship, and with how they balance their “professional” lives as gifted glamourists, each in their own way.

The expanded descriptions and explanations for this magic system were particularly interesting. It is a very unique take on magical and I enjoyed discovering more about how it work and the varying ways it can be adapted for different uses. I remember noting in my last review that this type of magic seemed as if it would have more important applications than simply as an art form, and this book explores this concept, much to my delight. Particularly, the book dives into the ways that glamour magic is used as strategy in military maneuvering.

As the description highlights, there is much more action in this story, particularly for Jane. I enjoyed watching her make proactive choices, rather than simply react to the circumstances presented to her.

My only complaint was the decreased role that some of the original characters played in this story. While the setting places some obvious constraints on the involvement of these characters (obviously Melody would not be on their honeymoon with them!), I still missed them.

All in all, this book improved on both of my complaints of the original: freeing itself from comparisons and expanding the use of its magic system. If you were only half-sold on the first book, definitely check this one out as I see it as a great improvement in the series.

Rating 8: A step in the right direction for the series as a whole!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Glamour in Glass” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Regency Fantasy” and “Historical Paranormal Romance.”

Find “Glamour in Glass” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed:“Shades of Milk and Honey”

Kate’s Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”

22417Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has become a household name in the future City he calls home. This latest collection of twisted tales showcases Spider’s horrific yet funny screeds on subjects as diverse as religion, politics, and his ex-wife’s cryogenically frozen head (which has been stolen). “Transmetropolitan” has been called “brilliant future-shock commentary” (Spin), and this new volume shows why.

Review: It boggles my mind, the things that I remember about “Transmetropolitan” and the things that I forgot. I definitely remember Spider and his ways, how couldn’t one? I remembered The Cat, the two faced feline, and Channon, and other characters that have yet to show up. But various plot points completely left my mind, and I Think that those plot points had more to do with the vignettes that you find in the comics every once in awhile. Because while “Transmetropolitan” has it’s overall progression and story arc, it also has stories that stand alone, even if they sometimes affect the broader plot. “Lust for Life” is one of those collections, where none of the stories really apply to The Beast, or the campaign, or Spider’s role in the political climate of The City or the world he inhabits. This collection is really there to give more depth to the characters and the world that they live in, and I forgot how filled with pathos this series could be until I picked this one up.

The stories in this collection do have some absurd moments (the frozen head of Spider’s ex-wife going missing, for example, and the romp that ensues). But there were two storylines that really stood out as heart felt and just plain sad. The sadness that comes in this collection really gives all the more strength to the series as a whole, to show that it’s not just one big cyber punk filth and cynicism festival. The first involves Channon, my favorite character in the whole series, and her inability to come to terms with letting her degenerate boyfriend out of her life. Channon is strong and she has the patience of a saint to put up with Spider, but you can tell that she’s also very lonely, and looking for validation. She never falls into a trope, but she has a turning point as a character when her boyfriend decides that he wants to leave his body and transfer his consciousness into a gaseous vapor. Sounds oddball, and it is, but Ellis does a great job of making this story more about letting go of loved ones, no matter how much it hurts, and how necessary it is. The entire sequence is both tragic and beautiful, and seeing Channon in this new, vulnerable role is incredibly rewarding.

The second storyline that really punched me in the gut was that of Mary. Mary is a subject of one of Spider’s columns, a woman who lived a vibrant and exciting life in the 20th century. She was a photographer who travelled the world and was present at a number of historic events. When she was older, she and her husband decided to go through cryogenesis so they could wake up in the future…. Except, her husband died before he could be frozen. And when Mary wakes up in the world of Spider Jerusalem and The City, she is in the body of a twentysomething… And completely alone in a place that she cannot comprehend. It’s a story about wanting to live beyond your time, and taking a chance on it only to find yourself all the more isolated within a world that is already incredibly isolating. It was a story that reminded me that Ellis can write snide and cynical and crude stories, but he can also write some seriously existential and pathos ridden stuff. The City is already claustrophobic for the people who live there and are used to it. But to bring in a person who is, by and large, an analog for the reader and the time frame that we are more comfortable with, it makes you really think about what the hell it would be like to live there instead of just reading about it from the outside. And for me, damn was it lonely and really, really scary. I remember once one of my classes asked me if I would take a chance on being frozen to be awakened at a future date. While a number of classmates said yes, I was a solid ‘no’. And I wonder if in the back of my mind I was remembering the story of Mary, and how she goes from a formidable and thriving woman to a scared and lost stranger in an alien land.

I do wish that more actual plot line had happened in this book, but overall I did enjoy “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. It’s nice to see that Spider does cover more than just the crazy campaign that is going to be a huge part of this story as a whole.

Rating 9: Though it isn’t as focused on the main storyline, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” does a good job of examining philosophical issues that could apply to it’s world, as well as our world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Gonzo Books”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”.

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodbound”

20949421Book: “The Bloodbound” by Erin Lindsey

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2014

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

Book Description: A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honor made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…

Review: Another book that landed on my to-read pile quite a while ago that now I have no memory of selecting. But, luckily for me, my past self must have been on top of things, because this lesser known fantasy novel hit just the spot!

I’m going to whip through the basic review portions to devote the rest of this post to two things that I feel make this book noteworthy in the long list of fantasy fiction being published currently.

General worldbuilding: pretty typical European-centric, medieval fantasy world. The bloodbinding magic used to create super weapons is interesting, but isn’t breaking any hugely new ground. I was fairly well into the book when I started questioning whether this even was a fantasy novel given how little these magical elements were mentioned. Later, however, it did play a bigger role, but if you’re interested in complex magical systems, this is not that book.

Characters: Alix is great. She’s a competent, funny, independent character whose abilities and intelligence are never questioned. She makes mistakes and is flawed, but her character arc takes her through these struggles smoothly, never undermining the stronger aspects of her character. The dialogue, both her own and those around her, was witty and I caught myself laughing out loud several times.

So, all of that aside there were two things that I found notable about this story. First, I was dismayed to find a love triangle smack dab in the middle of my adult fantasy novel.

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What? No! (source)

As we all know, I do not appreciate most love triangles. I find them unrealistic, and they often seem to bring out the worst in all characters involved (selfish heroines, ridiculous-verging-on-abusive love interests). Now, I won’t say that I loved the inclusion of a love triangle even here. I’ve just never really been too entertained by the drama of multiple love interests. Seems like it would be stressful and, for me, it is the exact opposite of wish fulfillment. That said, this one righted many of the wrongs I’m used to seeing with love triangles. Perhaps the simple fact that the author is writing about adults and for adults makes the difference here. There are real consequences to the choices that are made. Hearts are broken. Confusion is unpleasant, not thrilling. And the relationships between all characters involved are real and priorities are rightly placed beyond the romance of it all. I still struggled with some of Alix’s internal musings about the situation, as it still seems unrealistic to me to be equally drawn to two different people. However, the author provided a decent explanation for this, if one that I still somewhat questioned in reality. Further, the reaction of the two men involved was a highlight. No silly posturing. No abusive possessiveness. Actual hurt and confusion. They are people who have real feelings involved. Further, they have lives, relationships, friendships, duties, and families outside of Alix that they rightly keep in perspective throughout all of this. I was particularly pleased with the way this love triangle resolved itself. So, all of that said, while I still don’t find love triangles particularly entertaining, this book proves that they can be told from a more realistic and appealing angle.

My second notable aspect of the story was its treatment of women. I am continually frustrated by stories that justify the maltreatment of its women characters (or, frankly, the glorification of very objectionable material) and the creation of generally very traditionally sexist societies by hand-waving it all under the claim that this is somehow “more realistic.” You’re writing a damn fantasy novel with magic, unicorns, and zombies for heaven’s sake. You’ve left “realistic” far behind, so why is this one aspect somehow imperative to the “reality” of your story? This book highlights how to create a fairly typical medieval fantasy world while leaving that all behind. It’s not preaching “woman power.” It’s not bashing anyone over the head with A MESSAGE. It’s just telling a story in a world where women simply are there in the army, are there in politics, are there representing the head of their family. No big deal. Sure, it’s mentioned that as women are not as physically strong, they’re often found as archers in the military. But this is by no means a rule, with the doors to others roles left wide open. And no one blinks an eye at any of this. This book is a perfect example and response to the aforementioned narrative that it is somehow impossible to balance this type of typical fantasy world with a more inclusive approach to women’s roles.

All said, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s not breaking any walls as far as plot, following a pretty simple plot structure. But the strong characters, entertaining dialogue, and well-represented world recommend it to anyone who enjoys traditional fantasy fare with a dash of romance.

Rating 7: A fun fantasy story, notable for a not-gag-worthy love triangle and a strong representation of a more inclusive fantasy world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodbound” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Bodyguards” and “High Fantasy” with Female Leads / protoganists.”

Find “The Bloodbound” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Dear Amy”

26244587Book: “Dear Amy” by Helen Callaghan

Publishing Info: Harper Paperbacks, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: As a thirty-something Classics and English literature teacher, working at a school in Cambridge, Margot Lewis leads a quiet life. In her spare time, she writes an advice column for the local newspaper. But she can’t help feeling that she’s the last person who should be doling out advice, because her marriage has failed.

When one of Margot’s students, fifteen-year-old Katie Browne, disappears, the police immediately suspect she’s been kidnapped. Then, not long after Katie goes missing, Margot receives a disturbing letter at the newspaper offices. The letter is supposedly from Bethan Avery, a fifteen-year-old girl who was abducted from the local area twenty years ago…and never found. In the letter, Bethan states that she is being held captive and is in terrible danger. The letter ends with a desperate plea for her rescue.

The police analyze the letter and find it matches a sample of Bethan’s handwriting which they’ve kept on file since her disappearance. This shocking development in an infamous cold case catches the attention of Martin Forrester, a criminologist who has been researching Bethan Avery’s puzzling disappearance all those years ago. Spurred on by her concern for both Katie and the mysterious Bethan, Margot sets out—with Martin’s help—to discover if the two cases are connected. But then Margot herself becomes a target…will she be next?

Riveting to the final page, this is a masterful, sophisticated, and electrifying debut.

Review: Oh Grit Lit, I wish I could quit you. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. When it’s good, it’s really quite entertaining, a genre that keeps me interested and on my toes. When it’s bad, well……

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(source)

Given the pendulous possible outcomes, I definitely go in treading lightly, and try to keep my expectations low enough that I’m not terribly disappointed, but high enough that I don’t just give up on it. Sometimes this works. Other times it kind of just a was from the get go and I can see it from a mile away. And this is what happened with “Dear Amy” by Helen Callaghan. I found myself charging through it not so much because I wanted to know what was going to happen, but because I just wanted to get it over with. Which is never really a resounding cheer for a book. Now it wasn’t “Gone Girl” levels of hot boiling rage on my part, but I did have just a few too many qualms with it as a whole that left me less than enthused about it. So let’s just kind of unpack it, shall we? I think there are going to be spoilers here, guys. I need to talk about them to really show you why I’m irritated.

So first of all, Margot just punches every single Bingo square for stereotypical Grit Lit Heroine. She has been betrayed by her rat bastard husband (Eddy left her for another woman). She is outwardly pretty together as a teacher and advice columnist, but is afraid that if her dark past were to come out (heroin addiction being the worst part of it in her mind) everything would be ruined. And she is, of course, mentally unstable, with moments of questioning her sanity and the things that she is seeing in front of her. Old hat stuff, to be sure. But that’s not all. Oh no. Because in trope-y fashion, there of course has to be a huge twist, and this one was a doozy. Okay, here come the spoilers, folks. Get ready. Skip ahead if you really don’t want to be spoiled.

Margot is Bethan. Bethan is Margot. Margot has been in a dissociative fugue state all this time in regards to her trauma, and has been writing the letters to herself, as the Katie kidnapping set her off.

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Of course she is. (source)

Okay, look, I like a good twist as much as the next person, but this one was a bit too ludicrous for me to swallow. I’m all for unreliable narrators, but when you have to work really hard to make them unreliable, going to ludicrous lengths to do it, that’s when I start to have a hard time with it. I think I actually said ‘what?’ when it was revealed, and then it felt like just a way to say ‘what is real and what is a lie?!’. Come off it. And given that this is the second thriller novel I’ve read in the past couple of months that has ‘dissociative fugue!’ as one of the ‘what a twist’ moments, it’s already starting to feel played out as well as totally random and unnecessary. That said, there is one more twist that I did like, involving Margot and a friend of hers named Angelique from when she was in a halfway house as a teenager. This was a plot point that I did enjoy, and while I saw it coming as well, it was still more believable than the huge Bethan Avery twist. Hell, had this twist I did like been the only curveball, I probably would have liked it more.

Overall I was more interested in the Katie parts of the book, but even they felt a bit out of place because while Margot’s were in the first person, we’d jump to Katie’s chapters in the third person just so we could see what was going on with her. I think that it may have worked better if she had been in the first person as well, just because the way that it jumped into a different perspective made it feel almost like a cheat instead of a literary device to tell both stories in a consistent and interesting way. If this book had been from Katie’s POV I probably would have liked it more, even if it would have had the potential to get a BIT exploitative.

So while I liked parts of this book, “Dear Amy” ultimately didn’t really do much for me. I think that Helen Callaghan definitely has writing skills, and I think that I could see myself giving her another shot, this one was a little too far on the Billy Eichner side of the pendulum.

Rating 5: “Dear Amy” had promise but then it fell into far too many familiar traps of the Grit Lit genre. Some parts were interesting, but overall it wasn’t my thing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dear Amy” is not on any Goodreads lists yet. But it will fit in on “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “If You Enjoyed “Gone Girl” You Might Also Like…”.

Find “Dear Amy” at your library using WorldCat!

December 2016 Highlights

Christmas is almost here! Christmas is almost here! This is both great (Christmas music!) and not so great (Christmas music EVERYWHERE!) But it is a month full of festivities and holidays, many others than just Christmas, so Happy Holidays to everyone! Here are some books that are being published this December that we are each looking forward to.

Serena’s Picks

32601233Book: “Upon a Time” by R. L. Stedman

Publication Date: December 1, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This collection of retold fairytales sounds intriguing. I’m always looking for new fairytale re-tellings, and these sounds like classics with twists: an assassin on a dealing, a “Charming Ball,” a fairy godfather (!) and sleeping beasts. Fairytale re-tellings have had a bit of a “moment” the last several years with decreasing returns it seems. Hopefully this book will prove that there is still new life to be breathed into these types of stories!

28943777Book: “A Want of Kindness” by Joanne Limburg

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

Why I’m Interested: It’s been a while since I’ve highlighted a historical book, and when I came across this one, it sounded right up my alley, telling the story of Queen Anne who ascended to the throne in 1702 and was the last of the Stuart line. I’ve read a good amount of Phillipa Gregory in my day (a staple in historical regency fiction, though she mainly focuses on the Tudors), and this sounds very similar. Mixing fact and fiction, Limburg re-creates the intrigue and tragedy that made up Anne’s life. While the potential for crying is high with this one, I’m excited to check it out!

31258177Book: “Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi” by John Scalzi

Publication Date: December 31, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Another short story collection, this one by the well-known sci-fi author John Scalzi. The collection spans the last 20 years of Scalzi’s work and features four new stories. I haven’t read a lot of Scalzi’s work, but he has won a Hugo award for his novel “Redshirts” and is known for mixing sci fi stories with humor featuring the absurd. Just look at a few of these stories’ titles to get an idea: “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.”

Kate’s Picks

31338724Book: “Paper Girls 2” by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Ill.)

Publication Date: December 6th, 2016

So I liked the first volume of “Paper Girls” a fair amount, and while I’m hesitant about the hard line Sci-Fi bent that it seems to be taking (just look at the cover…), I like the characters. I like them a lot. My hope is that even if it does go pretty deep into Sci-Fi that the girls keep me interested enough that I’ll want to keep going. I’m also hoping that a couple of the girls who didn’t get as much play last time around will get some more fleshed out characterizations. Given the huge hit that was “Stranger Things”, I hope that the love for 80s Nostalgia keeps going in this series, as obviously it has an audience. “Paper Girls” has that potential.

lostboys_cv3_previews_57db3bc8ca2d27-56283947Book: “The Lost Boys #3” by Tim Seeley, Scott Godlewski (Ill.)

Publication Date: December 12th, 2016

This is kind of a new thing, but it’s kind of the first time in awhile that I’ve started following a comic series as the issues come out. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that the series I am doing this for is “The Lost Boys”!!!! This series picks up where the movie left off (and I’m guessing erases the two sequels from the canon), and it follows Michael, Sam, and the Frog Brothers as they deal with a new group of vampires. This time it’s a group of ladies called The Blood Belles, and BOY are they badass!!! I’m really enjoying this series, and I hope that it can keep the laughs and scares going.

20518817Book: “Normal” by Warren Ellis

Publication Date: November 29th, 2016 (a cheat, maybe, but it’s close enough to December)

Given that I’ve started a re-read of Warren Ellis’s classic “Transmetropolitan”, when I found out he’d written a techno thriller I was on board. Though I do kind of get nervous about the idea of techno-thrillers (man am I not a science or math person), I love Ellis and his stories, so I am more than willing to give this a chance. Plus, it sounds very strange, with strategists trying to prepare for ‘upcoming doom’ either by adapting technologies to stave it off, or by plotting about how to survive civil upheaval and chaos. One of the more positive strategists may have stumbled upon a vast conspiracy about the future and the doom that it predicts….. I’m a bit confused, but super intrigued too!

What upcoming books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “The King of Attolia”

40159Book: “The King of Attolia” by Megan Whalen Turner

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, January 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: By scheming and theft, the Thief of Eddis has become King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making.

Then he drags a naive young guard into the center of the political maelstrom. Poor Costis knows he is the victim of the king’s caprice, but his contempt for Eugenides slowly turns to grudging respect. Though struggling against his fate, the newly crowned king is much more than he appears. Soon the corrupt Attolian court will learn that its subtle and dangerous intrigue is no match for Eugenides.

Review: We’re back for some more of Eugendides’ hi-jinks and even more fantasy political drama. After the shake-up with narrative style that came with the previous book (going from a first person narrative from Gen’s perspective in the first book, to a third person POV with multiple characters in the second), I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. How can an author keep her main character so tricky when readers are on to the cons after two books? Well, without spoiling it, Whalen Turner is definitely up to the task!

Our story starts with poor Gen exactly where he never wanted to be: ruling a country. Further, he’s now the King in a land ruled by a clear-headed, hard-handed Queen who rules over a land that was often at odds with his own native Eddis. I very much enjoyed the exploration of this relationship. This is by no means the happy, fluffy, “ever after” story that one is used to seeing after a royal wedding. Gen and Attolia have a complicated relationship, both in regards to their own rather, ahem, strife-ridden history, but also due to the aforementioned political power posturing that comes with a foreigner gaining a position of authority in a new land. Attolia is not the easiest woman to understand, as is made clear in the last book. And Gen plays his own thoughts and feelings close, for all that he seems so lackadaisical about everything. The exploration of this relationship was excellent.

Further, while the third person POV style was kept for this book, we are introduced to a new character, Costis, a guard in Attolia’s court. Costis is our eyes and ears representing both the feelings of many in the land of Attolia after Gen’s ascension to the throne, but also the necessary fop to be conned by Gen’s playacting. And while it is, of course, immensely enjoyable watching Costis’s eyes be opened to the true genius that is Gen, I continue to be impressed by how effectively Whalen Turner can still con the reader, as well. From the last two books, it is clear that Gen is the type of character who would chafe under the restrictions of royal life. This being the case, even I had a hard time knowing what was or was not an act on his part.

Other than Gen’s struggles at court, the larger plot of this story deals with the continued political turmoil going on in this region between the three main power houses: Attolia, Eddis, and the often-aggressive, Sunnis. Between this and the corruption in Attolia’s own court, the book’s plot is mainly political strategy and lighter on the action than both previous books (though after the action-packed “The Thief,” the previous book’s action was also much lighter). With this, the third in the series, it increasingly feels as if the first book stood alone in many ways, both in style, tone, and the type of story it was telling. These last two books seem represent the true direction that Whalen Turner is wanting to take this series. While I very much enjoyed “The Thief,” I’m loving these last two. If you’re looking for a series that doesn’t fall into any of the tropes or familiar storylines that are often present in fantasy series, definitely check out this series!

Rating 9: Excellent. I continue to be impressed with the author’s ability to retain Gen’s “trickiness!”

Reader’s Advisory:

“The King of Attolia” is on these Goodreads lists: “Political themed YA fiction” and “Jesters, Fools, and tricksters.”

Find “The King of Attolia” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Thief” and “The Queen of Attolia”

Kate’s Review: The “March” Trilogy

Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Production, August 2013 (1), January 2015 (2), and August 2016 (3).

Where Did I Get These Books: The library!

Book Description: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. 

Review: John Lewis, noted Civil Rights Activist and Georgia Congressman, can now add another fabulous moniker to his name: National Book Award Winner. On November 16th, 2016, he won the National Book Award (in the Young Readers category) for his book “March: Book 3”, the conclusion to his autobiographical graphic novel series about his time during the Civil Rights Movement. I caught his acceptance speech, and like many other people, cried deeply because I was so happy for him, and it clearly meant so so much on so many levels. By total coincidence, I had just read “March: Book 2” that morning. It had been awhile since I read “Book 1”, and was playing catch up. So then all I had to do was wait for “Book 3” to come in, vowing that once it did I was going to review the entire work as a whole. Because that’s what the “March” Trilogy is: it’s one large story about a remarkable man during a tumultuous time, a story about a movement that changed the nation and a movement that seems all the more relevant today. So I waited. And “Book 3” finally came in for me. So now, let me tell you about this fabulous series.

“March: Book 1” starts with Lewis’s childhood as the son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama and goes through the Lunch Counter Protests in Nashville. From a young age Lewis had a drive and a passion to lead and learn, his early aspirations of being a preacher evolving into the leadership and commitment that he put forth while in the Nashville Student Movement, and then into the broader Civil Rights Movement as a whole. “March: Book 2” talks about his time with the Freedom Riders and the violence they faced during their non violent protests and demonstrations, all leading up to the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. This book deals more with the growing aggression of the white citizens and government, as well as the Federal Government starting to waffle and teeter and struggle with the role that it should be playing. It’s also the book that shows Lewis and his own inner struggles, as while non violence is always the mission and the goal, his resentment and anger threatens to boil over. “March: Book 3” is the conclusion, and addresses Freedom Summer, Voting Rights, and Selma. And this story is told all within the frame of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Stunning framework, absolutely beautiful. There are multiple parallels between things in “Book 1” that come up again in “Book 3”, and there are themes that link all of them together not just with Lewis, but with other prominent figures as well. Lewis sets out to tell all of their stories as best he can, and the result is one of the best damn graphic novel series I have ever read.

This series is so powerful and personal, and it goes to show just how remarkable John Lewis is. He’s one of the ‘Big Six’, aka one of the most influential members of the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the only ones left, as he reminds us in “Book 1”. These books are very straight forward and simple, but they are so honest and personal that the power they have is immense. I found myself crying many times during my reads of all these books, but also laughing, and cheering, and seething. Lewis brought out so many emotions in me with his story, and his immense talent as a storyteller comes through, just as his charisma does. We get to see the story of the Civil Rights Movement through his eyes, and he tells us the stories of those involved within the movement and those who influenced it from the outside as well. Yes, at times these books are violent, and upsetting, but they need to be, because the horrors that fell upon many people during their non violent protests must never be forgotten. I think that the entirety is an accomplishment, but I understand why they gave the National Book Award to “Book 3”. After all, while it is probably symbolic of awarding the whole darn thing, I think that “Book 3” was the most powerful in terms of emotion being served, be it pride, fear, rage, or determination. It certainly was the one that had me weeping from the get go, as the very first moment was the bombing of the 16th Baptist Church that killed four little girls. The violence is absolutely horrifying, but it cannot be forgotten or glossed over. It absolutely cannot. “March: Book 3” also was the one to really address the differences of ideologies within the movement as a whole, not just between King and X, but Lewis and SNCC as well. And Lewis also has no qualms addressing the fact that LBJ, while he did ultimately get things going on a Federal level, was incredibly reluctant to do much in terms of help until he absolutely  HAD to. I think that realities get lost in the historical narratives that come in our educations, and that is absolutely why the “March” Trilogy is fundamental reading when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement in this country.

And, like other graphic novels before it, I want to address the artwork in this series. Because it is beautiful in it’s simplicity, and yet powerful in it’s design. It’s all black and white, and stark and striking on every page. Nate Powell brings the story to life on the page, and he did it both with bits of humor to go along with the hope, horror, and courage. There were bits of realism to accompany the distinct style, but it always felt very tangible and very authentic. As I mentioned before, the illustrations do not gloss over the violence that was prevalent during the time, and while it certainly is disturbing, it’s done in a way that could never be dismissed as exploitative or ‘over the top’. It is incredibly honest and upsetting, but it needs to be. The reader needs to be upset and outraged by it. Because it IS upsetting, and it is outrageous.

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I cannot stress enough how important the “March”Trilogy is in these uncertain and scary times. John Lewis is a treasure and an inspiration, and I feel that this is required reading. Get this in schools, get this in curriculums, get this in peoples hands. And you, you should likewise go out and get your hands on this series. You will not regret it. You will learn something. And you will be moved. Thank you, John Lewis. Thank you for so much.

Rating 10: A phenomenal and deeply personal series, John Lewis tells his story of activism through this astounding graphic novel trilogy. He speaks on the Civil Rights Movement from his perspective, and shows parallels to recent fights for rights and freedoms.

Reader’s Advisory:

The “March” Trilogy can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Civil Rights Reading List”, “History Through Graphic Novels”, and “Activist Memoirs”.

Find The “March” Trilogy at your local library using WorldCat! Book 1; Book 2; Book 3.