Serena’s Review: “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge”

31019831 Book: “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” by Lisa Jensen

Publishing Details: Candlewick Press, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: They say Château Beaumont is cursed. But servant-girl Lucie can’t believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier’s cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wisewoman grants her wish, with a spell that transforms Jean-Loup into monstrous-looking Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside. But Beast is nothing like the chevalier. Jean-Loup would never patiently tend his roses; Jean-Loup would never attempt poetry; Jean-Loup would never express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature from the handsome chevalier, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup’s ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced the cruel Jean-Loup — until an innocent beauty arrives at Beast’s château with the power to break the spell.

Review: Oof, another challenging “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. I think I could probably write an entire PhD on the pitfalls of re-telling this fairytale. When I first saw the book description, I was excited to read a version that was seemingly focused on an entirely new character, not “Beauty” herself. And while that aspect was still interesting, the book itself was very difficult to read and I will have a hard time recommending it to others, unfortunately.

Lucie is a servant in the house of the rich lord, Jean-Loup. After a horrific event, she is the one to wish the worst on her master, resulting in him turning into a beast, and her into a sentient household item. As time passes, she begins to suspect that this new, beastly version of her master might not be the same, and when a stranger arrives on the scene, the world begins to change once again.

So this is obviously not a positive review, but there are a few things I’d like to highlight as positives for this book. One, I still very much appreciate the originality behind the concept of this story. We’ve all read a million and one versions told from various “Beauty’s” perspectives. Some are better than others, but the basic construct is the same. They all arrive on the scene, confused and scared. And slowly come to change their minds and fall in love with the Beast. Here, Lucie knows Jean-Loup before his change and her experiences with him as a Beast are from the perspective of a servant, not the traditional heroine’s role. What’s more, Lucie isn’t even the “Beauty” in this story, and that character does make an appearance and play a part in the story unfolding. It’s a very creative take on things, and I truly wish that other choice had been made that would have allowed this new version to stand well on its own.

Further, I did like the writing for the most part. The “voice” fits well with the re-telling of a fairytale. It verges on rather simplistic and “younger” sounding, but I think that, done right, this tone actually works really well for fairytales which can be unique for having a different cadence, such as this. However, the writing also directly lines up with some of my major criticisms of the book.

It is very simplistic and straight forward. As I began reading, I started thinking “Huh, ok. So this is maybe more of a middle grade version of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Great!” Mentally, I started aligning it with the words of Shannon Hale, who’s written a bunch of fairytales, many of which have a younger-sounding voice and simple story-telling technique. But alas, this comparison died a sudden, very harsh death only a few chapters into the story.

(This might be a spoiler, but it’s pretty crucial to understanding the negative reaction I’ve had to this book, so if you want to go in blind, skip the rest!)

The prologue to the story sets it up that Lucie is the one who directed the fairy to go “all in,” as it were, on the curse on Jean-Loup. So we know that something awful has to happen to inspire this level of hatred. And something awful does indeed happen, in the form of a graphic sexual assault scene.

This was shocking to see on several accounts, but not least of all is the direct contradiction that the graphic nature of this scene lays across the middle-grade nature of the writing itself. I was mentally comparing this book to Shannon Hale, of all people, based on the writing style itself. The most sweetest fairytale writer you can find! And that’s a problem. Likely, the type of reader who is going to appreciate the tone of this writing style is going to verge younger. Even for me, a fan of middle grade and YA fiction, I was distracted by the simplistic nature of this writing. So those who may truly enjoy it are going to be young. And then you get a scene that could have been straight out of “Game of Thrones.” It’s going to be tough to read for even the most hardened among us who are semi-used to running across scenes like this in adult fantasy, let alone younger readers. But, on this side of things, readers who are prepared for this type of dark scene, are likely going to be completely turned off by the young-sounding writing. So there’s a contradiction there where the writing and content are, conversely, going to turn off both options for a reader-base.

Beyond this, I have problems with the actual story line, having included a scene like this as the basis for Lucie’s hatred of Jean-Loup. For all intents and purposes, Lucie ends up as the romantic interest for the Beast, instead of Belle. The book tries to roll out the tried and true rug of “magically separated/changed selves” that would absolve the Beast of past actions, as he is now no longer truly that person. I will always struggle with this type of wand-waving. Regardless of the fact that the “reasons” that Lucie points to as evidence that these two beings are inherently different are horribly minor (like food preferences and fears of spiders), there’s always going to be an insurmountable hill, in my mind, between forgiving an attacker (a hard ask on its own) and falling in love with him. I just can’t get behind that story, and I don’t think this book did nearly enough, even, to highlight any exception that could be made.

While the latter argument could be a matter of personal preference (though I still don’t think there is a huge swath of readers out there who are just searching for that great tale highlighting a victim falling in love with her attacker), my first point about the very real conflict between writing style and content is enough for me to give this a low rating. I honestly just have a hard time really focusing in on who exactly the audience is supposed to be for this book. At the very least, I wasn’t part of it.

Rating 4: Not for me. I don’t think this is a message we want to send out, regarding victims and their attackers, and the writing style was in direct conflict with the content.

Reader’s Advisory:

Again, honestly, if you want a good “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, go read “Beauty,” (the classic, in my opinion), “Heart’s Blood,” (by may favorite author, Juliet Marillier), or “Hunted” (for a more recently published option).

Find “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Burn Bright”

35839437Book: “Burn Bright” by Patrica Briggs

Publishing Info: Ave, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

Review: This is going to be a really challenging review to write. For one thing, I have read all of the other books in this series, but they were all before Kate and I started this blog, so the progression of my feelings for this particular series isn’t already documented. I’ll try to discuss that a bit in the beginning to lend some context to this review. My feelings are also all tied up because a very small moment in this book has a massive effect on not only this series, but also the Mercy Thompson series which I have been reviewing here. I’m still not even completely certain if my ultimate rating is accurate. So with that super clear and stellar intro, let’s get into it, shall we?

This story takes place directly after the events in the last Mercy Thompson book, thus Bran is still away overseas. This leaves Charles and Anna in charge of managing the pack back home in Montana. All seems well until the some of the more dangerous members of the pack, those so wild that they live removed from the others out in the wilderness, begin to report being pestered and attacked by strangers with powerful magical tools. But how are these strangers even aware of these far and removed wolves and what do they ultimately want?

As I said, I’ve been reading this series right alongside the Mercy Thomspon books, as Briggs seems to release one book from either series almost yearly. I’ve had my up and down moments with the Mercy books, but overall, I’ve always enjoyed her as a character and had a fun time with those books. Not so with this series. For some reason, Anna’s more passive character has never seemed to translate well for me, and combining her with the often stoic and reserved Charles does nothing to add any more energy to the story. What’s worse, I’ve felt that the books previous to this have been pretty light on the action over all, leaving most of the story to be carried by characters alone, something that I never felt either Charles or Anna were up to.

So that’s what makes this story particularly hard. For the most part, action-wise at least, I enjoyed this book way more than I have other entries in the series. Particularly the one that came directly before this, “Dead Heat,” which I barely made it through out of sheer boredom. Here, the action takes off almost immediately and the tension and mystery remains interesting throughout the story. While I still did get to a point where I was over halfway through the book and wondering when the main plot was going to get going, I still had had enough action in smaller moments to keep me on board. I particularly liked the addition of a few new wolves in the half-crazed wildlings that live on the periferary of the Montana pack. One in particular, a crux point for the entire story, had a very compelling back story and new take on how one becomes a werewolf and how ones life prior to this change can affect their life going forward.

I also liked the way witchcraft was brought into this story. There were some new magical weapons that were introduced, and an longer story arc was referenced that I could see continuing to play out in exciting ways in both future books in this series as well as in the Mercy series.

Charles and Anna, too, were fairly strong in this one. While I still don’t enjoy them nearly as much as Adam and Mercy, they were interesting enough here. Anna’s passivity still makes her not the most interesting character, but her unique Omega powers were used in a new way that lent some new depths to her character. We also had some ties to her past that reinforced some of the challenges that she still struggles with. Charles was…Charles. Not much changed there, but oh well.

So, with all of that, I would rate this book on its own around a seven. I probably would have rated most of the other books in this series around a 5 or 6, so a 7 is a marked increase for me in general enjoyment. And yet, as you can see, it has a 4.I really can’t discuss the reason for this drastic drop without spoilers. So for those who still want to read this book, spoiler free, just know that there is a particularly conversation that massively retcons a certain character that has, in my opinion, a dire impact on both this series and, maybe even more so, the Mercy series. But for those want to know, spoilers below!

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It’s bad guys, it’s real bad.

Apparently, Bran has had romantic feelings for Mercy since forever. And both Charles and Anna, and probably Leah, and pretty much everyone but Mercy (AND THE READERS) have known about this the entire time. I have so many problems with this, let me list the ways:

  1. First and foremost, we have had ZERO indication that this is the case through two entire series made of 14+ books. That’s a whole lot of writing in which this was never referenced in even the slightest way. Every discussion about Bran and Mercy’s relationship has firmly framed it as a father/daughter relationship. Nothing Bran has done or said has indicated anything else. Nothing Mercy has said or thought has indicated anything else. And no other character, even in passing reference, has even hinted that there is a romantic element to all of this. It’s a retcon in the most clear way.
  2. This is hugely upsetting and pretty much ruins Bran’s character. Up to this point, Bran had been one of my favorite characters in the series. He is supremely powerful, but has hidden it successfully for centuries. His love (fatherly!) for and loyalty to Mercy were always touching moments, especially for a character whose own real parents were largely absent from her life. Now he’s a pedophile. There’s just no way around this fact. Bran sent Mercy away from the pack when she was a teenager, fifteen or sixteen I think. He did this to prevent his own son from pursuing a relationship with her, knowing that the age difference and differing motives (Sam just wanting kids who will survive) made it an almost predatory situation for Mercy. She then spent the rest of her growing and adult years removed from Bran and the pack. So what this entire conversation between Charles and Anna sets up is a horrible, pedophilia-based interest from Bran in Mercy. Charles and Anna discuss that Leah’s poor treatment (abusive in its own right) of Mercy was largely due to her own knowledge of Bran’s feelings for Mercy. From what we know, Leah was terrible to Mercy almost always, meaning that Bran had romantic interest in Mercy from when Mercy was a very young child. Even in the best light (which again, doesn’t work with the Leah timeline), Mercy was only 15 when she and Bran were living in the same pack and had a relationship together. 15!!! And he’s thousands of years old!!! And the entire reason he sent her away in the first place was presumably  because of his own son’s age (and the child stuff).
  3. This entire thing also puts a horrible spin on Leah’s treatment of Mercy. It was always bad and cast probably the darkest shadow (up to this point) on Bran’s character that he didn’t stop it. Again, Mercy was a child and Leah tormented her to the point where Charles, in this book, admits that he followed Mercy when she was alone to make sure Leah didn’t try anything, hinting that he had legitimate concerns that Leah could do something extreme to Mercy. This book proceeds to try and make Leah a  more sympathetic character by setting up this “Bran having feelings for Mercy” thing. As if Leah has some sort of right to be angry AT A CHILD for inspiring wildly inappropriate feelings in her mate, and in some ways Mercy had the bad treatment coming.
  4. Anna, too, is ruined by this, because at one point she says she “understands” Leah and would “feel the same way” had Charles had similar feelings. Anna is supposed to be a character whose empathy and social awareness makes her unique among a species prone to emotional denseness. And this is terrible, to at all relate to essentially a mother who abuses her child (to the point that others fear for the child’s life) because the father has an inappropriate fixation on said child. For Anna to be on the wrong side of this situation, to be casually talking (and smiling!) about it as if no part of it is that big of a deal, other than pack gossip, pretty much ruins what is supposed to be her “super power.”
  5. This is a small thing in the grander scheme of disgustingness that is this entire situation, but we now have almost every male character in this series falling in love with Mercy. It was bad enough before with Samuel and Stephen, but now it’s just gone to a crazy level. As if no man is capable of having a healthy, platonic relationship with her without succumbing to wanting more.

I really can’t say enough about how upsetting this turn of events is. It’s truly going to make it difficult to continue with either series. If taken as fact, it makes Bran a despicable character, a predator in the most base sense, and someone who can only be seen as a villain going forwards. Any interaction between him and Mercy has now retroactively been made cringe worthy to read, and going forward impossible to support. I honestly don’t know how Briggs can fix this or if she even will try. I’ll probably read the next Mercy book just to find out, but I don’t really have any hope for the situation. Other than killing off Bran, I don’t know what can be done. And even that still leaves it very difficult to go back and re-read the other books in the series without feeling incredibly uncomfortable and put off. If I could just tear these pages of dialogue out of the book and pretend I had never read them, I’d be so much happier.

So, that’s my feelings on that. As you can see, I massively downgraded this book because of what is only a short conversation, but one that has dire consequences for this and the Mercy Thompson series as a whole. And it’s too bad, because on its own, I liked this book the best of all the others in this specific series. But if I could, I’d rather have not read it at all and kept my good feelings about Bran and the Mercy Thompson series instead.

Rating 4: Honestly, if you’re a big fan of the Mercy Thompson series, I wouldn’t read this. It does more damage to those books than the good it does for its own series, in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Burn Bright” is a newer title so isn’t on many relevant lists, it should be on this list (like many of Briggs’ other books are): “Best novels with Native American main character.”

Find “Burn Bright” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Cruel Beauty”

15839984Book: “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, January 2014

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

Book Description: Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

Review: Sigh. I don’t know, I think I’m in some very specific, “Beauty and the Beast” related slump. Don’t get me wrong, you can tell from the above alone, this was better than the “Star-Touched Queen.” I mean, at least I finished it! There were things I legitimately liked about this story, but in the end, I was still very disappointed by yet another much-lauded retelling of this classic tale.

Nyx has known her entire life that she only has one destiny: to marry the Gentle Lord and try to save her world. But in reality, she is likely a sacrifice who will die on her wedding night at the hands of a demon lord who has imprisoned her world and tempted her people (including her father) with wicked bargains that never turn out well. But when she finds herself finally married and in a castle with secrets around every corner, she begins to question this mission. Who is this Gentle Lord really? How did he get here and what will it take to truly save herself and her people?

This story started out strong. As I said in my review of “The Star-Touched Queen,” I was enjoying this read as a palate cleanser for the first several chapters. The writing is strong, freed from the syrupy prose that drove me nuts with the former, the world-building was unique, and Nyx herself was complicated and interesting.

Nyx’s world is essentially a version of England had it remained under its Roman influences. Her people have combined the folklore of the original residents of Arcadia and the Roman pantheon of gods and myths. These myths and characters are sprinkled throughout the story, and I enjoyed this new take on the magical elements that came directly from some of these myths and how they could be twisted to fit a Beauty and the Beast like story.

Nyx also started off as a promising heroine. She’s a brave, strong young woman, but also embittered and resentful of the role she is meant to play. Her father’s deal required he choose one of his twin daughters to marry the Gentle Lord, and Nyx has felt the weight of being the lesser loved for her entire life. What’s more, her sweet and naive sister has played a complicated role in Nyx’s life. She is innocent and has done no wrong, and Nyx can’t help but resent her. And this resentment leads to Nyx’s own self-loathing at her inability to disconnect her father’s choices from her relationship with her sister. So this was all a strong foundation. Nyx is presented as conflicted, but determined. Not perfect, but recognizing her own flaws. Seemingly, a character I should root for.

The problem became that Nyx was SO conflicted that I couldn’t root for her because I could never be sure what her actual goals were from one page to the next. Once she gets into the castle, meets the Gentle Lord, and begins going about her mission, Nyx becomes a bundle of confusion and indecision. This would be fine, except for the fact that every other page she states that she is DETERMINED to do such and such. Then a few pages go by and she’s DETERMINED to do the exact opposite. Her emotions are all over the place, and they are all the most extreme at any point. She hates her sister and the Gentle Lord. But no, she loves her sister and maybe the Gentle Lord is OK. It got to the point that whenever she had a new revelation, I couldn’t invest any true meaning into it, because chances were good she was going to walk back that decision/emotion in just a few pages, depending on whatever position on things the person she next interacted with had.

There was also a dreaded love triangle introduced almost immediately. Granted it was a unique version of a love triangle (more on that later), but a love triangle it remained. What’s more, both points of the love triangle capitalized on flaws that particularly irk me in romances. One was pretty much an instalove connection, with Nyx and this man kissing on almost their first interaction and their practically announcing their love a few interactions later.

The other came with all the complications of the romantic character being a truly bad guy as far as Nyx knows at this point. Obviously, with any Beauty and the Beast story (or Hades/Persephone, what have you), you know going in that there is going to be a change of heart somewhere along the line. But my one requirement for these types of romances is that the change of heart comes AFTER the love interest has done something to make the heroine begin to question her assumptions about his cruelty. He needs to earn not only her love, but first even the opportunity for her to consider him as even a decent person who might be worthy of love. When the heroine, like Nyx here, falls for the “Beast” when he’s still full-on in beast mode and has done nothing to redeem himself, it’s not a tragic love story but instead another example of setting up unhealthy and scary expectations for the type of behavior that is acceptable in a romantic partner. No amount of “hotness” makes it OK. When Nyx first starts feeling drawn to him, he’s still only the demon who killed her mother and is actively killing more of her people. She has no reason to question this, even if we the readers know this tale backwards and forwards and can suspect there’s more to it than that. She doesn’t know that, and it makes any attachment she feels for him at this point just another example of problematic romances in YA fiction.

The other big problem I had was that this love triangle also gave away the answer to the end of the book. I had no problem whatsoever immediately guessing the secrets involved in this story right off the bat. Not only does this drain any dramatic tension from the story, but it damages Nyx’s characterization by making her seem rather dull-witted for not figuring it out herself. What’s worse, the author makes the bizarre choice of having Nyx discover the answer halfway through the story and then conveniently forget. And that’s not even getting into the fact that the device used to reveal these facts to her had killed every wife of the Gentle Lord before, but not Nyx. It’s never explained why not Nyx, not even a tertiary throw-away comment that would somehow make her an exception. Nope, she’s just special because the story needs her to be.

Between the love triangle, Nyx’s inconsistent and hard to root for characterization, and the early reveal of an obvious conclusion, I really struggled with this book. It did have a unique magical world set up and I enjoyed Nyx at the beginning, but after she arrived at the castle, the story took a distinct downwards trajectory and never managed to recover.

Rating 4: Another disappointing “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, this time with improvements to the heroine, but an unnecessary and plot-revealing love triangle.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cruel Beauty” is included on a million Goodreads lists about heroines who fall for bad guys and best fairytale retellings, but I just can’t. Go read “Beauty” if you haven’t already. And if you have, give yourself a treat and re-read it!

Find “Cruel Beauty” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batwoman (Vol.1): The Many Arms of Death”

34657854Book: “Batwoman (Vol.1): The Many Arms of Death” by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting (Ill.), Ben Oliver (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, November 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Batwoman returns with her own series in BATWOMAN VOL. 1, as a part of DC Rebirth!

The newest chapter of Batwoman’s life begins here! Monster Venom is the hottest new bioweapon on the market…and to break up the syndicate spreading it around the world, Batwoman’s going to have to return to the place where she spent some of her darkest hours! 

With writing from Marguerite Bennett (DC BOMBSHELLS) and James Tynion IV (DETECTIVE COMICS), as well as spectacular art from Steve Epting (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER) and Ben Oliver (THE MULTIVERSITY), this new series spins directly out of the smash hit DETECTIVE COMICS series! 

BATWOMAN VOL. 1 collects issues #1-6 and the one-shot special BATWOMAN: REBIRTH #1.

Review: I want to extend a special thank you to DC Comics and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

This should have been a slam dunk on paper, guys. When I read that DC’s “Rebirth” series was going to jump start Batwoman (after cancelling her during the “New 52” run), I was happy. When I found out that it was going to be written by Marguerite Bennett of “DC Bombshells” fame, I was ELATED!! Not only do I love the “DC Bombshells” series, as you all know, I really love what has been done with Batwoman/Kate Kane within it. Kate Kane is a super great and super important superhero, as she is tough as nails and also an out and proud lesbian, and seeing her get a series again is great. I love Kate Kane and I love that she is getting page time.

But sadly, I don’t love how her story has picked up in “Rebirth”. In fact, I was pretty underwhelmed by it. AND I DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT BECAUSE IT IS BATWOMAN AND IT IS MARGUERITE BENNETT!

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Help me understand. (source)

I think that my mistake was thinking that since Bennett was taking the lead that it would have a similar tone to “Bombshells”. It decidedly does not. In fact, this is some pretty dark and gritty stuff going on on these pages. I’m vaguely resentful because I gave up on “Batwoman” during her “New 52” run because it was so bleak, dark, and scattered, and I hoped that it would bring focus back to Kate, Bette, and Maggie Sawyer. But, alas, Bette and Maggie are mentioned only in passing, and Kate is on the hunt for traffickers of Monster Venom, which has spiked in usage and is causing a lot of trouble. The group is called the Many Arms of Death, and Kate is on the case! This, however, brings us to a spike in Kate’s own past, as she returns to an island that she spent some time on with Safiyah, the leader of a rowdy band of outlaws, during her search. Safiyah and Kate were lovers during Kate’s stint (captivity?) on this island, and now Safiyah has disappeared… Though some old faces remain, and are determined to cause trouble for Kate, just as a looming corporation has plans for the island. I mean, fine, okay, but I kind of liked it when Batwoman was doing her own thing in Gotham, and wasn’t being told what to do by Bruce Wayne. International drug traffickers and corrupt executives doesn’t really get my goat in my comics, and I couldn’t really bring myself to get invested in this entire storyline. I did like seeing Julia Pennyworth, Alfred’s daughter, acting as Batwoman’s sidekick. She provides some very fun humor and snark to go along with the brooding angst that Kate brings us (there’s a rather funny joke she has regarding ‘creepy twin bingo’ and a square that says ‘weird incest vibes’). But it was a small solace in a storyline that just had me more bored than anything else.

AND THEN, after we got through that bit (for now) and finally made our way BACK to Gotham, we jumped ahead to some kind of strange dystopian future where Batwoman is helping fight against some new, corrupt Batman (who is not Bruce Wayne). I’m sure that this will all play out and make sense as time goes on, but I’m not so sure that I’m at all interested in THAT kind of storyline either.

I do want to reiterate that I love Kate Kane. I love that she has been changed from an inept and shallow love interest to Batman to a strong, driven warrior in her own right. I also like seeing her woo and court and kiss and flirt with so many ladies, as that’s the perfect mirror to the original ‘Bruce Wayne As Playboy’ trope that she initially was written to fall for back in the day. I want to love these new stories for her because I want Batwoman to succeed and live up to her awesomeness. But the way it’s happening here outside of “Bombshells” just isn’t meeting the wants and needs I have for an entertaining comic, and I’m very sad about that.

I should mention, however, that some of the art in this is absolutely beautiful. Stephanie Hans did this issue in the collection, and I just love the dreamlike quality to it.

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(source)

I’m sorry to say that the new “Batwoman” arc in “Rebirth” just may not be for me. I have some time before the next trade comes out to ruminate on whether or not I’m going to continue, but as of right now I may just need to stick with “DC Bombshells” for my Kate Kane fix. I wish her all the best and all the success that she deserves, though.

Rating 4: Though I love that Kate Kane/Batwoman is back in the “Rebirth” run for DC, the ever gritty and dark tone to her new series is just not doing it for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batwoman (Vol.1): The Many Arms of Death” is on the Goodreads lists “Queen Women Kicking Butt”, and “If You Like Agent Carter Try…”.

Find “Batwoman (Vol.1): The Many Arms of Death” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Rebel Angels”

51428Book: “Rebel Angels” by LIbba Bray

Publishing Info: Ember, December 2006

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

Book Description: Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain…

The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

Spoilers for “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

Review: Oof, this review, it’s going to be tough. It seems that “Rebel Angels” is widely believed to be the stronger book of the first two in Bray’s “Gemma Doyle” series. But man, I had some problems with this one.

But first, the good. There is no questioning Bray’s strength as a writer. The dialogue is always excellent, the descriptions of Victorian London are spot on. She includes many historical details that keep the atmosphere rich and poignant, and she’s mastered writing her action set pieces, something that was perhaps lacking in the first book. Further, the stakes have been raised in this book. Gemma, Felicity, and Anne have experienced real hardship with the death of their friend Pippa. And Circe, Gemma’s mother’s murderer, seems to circle ever nearer throughout this story. I enjoyed the expansion of both the “real world” setting, moving the story out from the walls of Spence Academy and into the social workings of London itself, as well as that of the Realms. We get to move beyond the perfectly lovely Garden and begin to see that now that the magic is released, things aren’t quite right in this magical land. Further, they might not have been right even before when the Order was in power.

So, there you go. This is a long book (a mark against it, really, since I think Bray could have used an editor to help trim this book up in places), but the writing and general plotting of the story are strong and got me through it. And considering my list of complaints to come, getting through it in a timely manner is actually a big mark in…something’s favor.

First off, the characters. As I said, there were some serious happenings in the first book. Pippa died. Felicity (and Anne in following her) did some truly awful things in the pursuit of power. It was made clear that the Realms weren’t all pretty flowers and magical powers with no strings attached. With this all, characters needed to grow! Other than mourning Pippa’s death, the threesome of girls quickly falls into the exact same pattern of behavior they exhibited in the first book as if they had learned absolutely nothing.

Felicity continues to bully Gemma into making bad decisions with the Realms, behaving as if it is still the free-for-all they had first supposed it to be, as if she hadn’t sacrificed a deer bare-handed in the previous book only to come this close to becoming a dark denizen herself. She routinely advises Gemma to ignore warnings and plays hot and cold with her friendship. You’d think that after coming through together what was experienced in the first book there would be a real foundation of friendship. Instead, we continue to see examples of a “mean girl” who only cares for Gemma when it is convenient. This doesn’t speak well to Gemma’s character either for tolerating such one-sided friendships (Anne has similar issues, siding with Felicity in all of her worst moments and never giving anything back to Gemma to justify Gemma’s continued loyalty).

Further, about half way through the story Bray introduces a dark backstory for Felicity with regards to her family. I have mixed feelings on this as I do think in many ways it was handled very well. But it was also used as a magic wand to somehow excuse Felicity’s behavior, which I don’t agree with. Further, after showing up briefly, there are many implications that are never fully addressed, which leaves the whole situation feeling all too close to a “plot convenience” which doesn’t sit well at all.

Anne has changed not at all. If anything, her character’s uselessness is doubled down upon. She has gained no bravery, no sense of self worth, and has actually actively stepped back into bad behaviors (self harm) that much time was spent on overcoming in the first book. Why was our time wasted then if she wasn’t going to improve at all here? And in this book, I can’t think of a single time when she truly aided the group. She was nothing more than dead weight throughout the entire story, and has now been given almost every negative stereotype a character like her can have, and gained none of the the strengths one would expect from a character moving beyond and through these set backs. Halfway through the book she ends up in a dangerous situation, and I was openly rooting for her to just be written out of the book. Alas, no.

And Gemma. The problems with Gemma aren’t even character problems. For the most part, I still very much like her as a leading lady. Unlike the other two, she has more sides to her that fully flesh her out and make her character arc interesting to follow. And while she does seem to grow throughout this book, there is the same problem from the previous to this: she has learned nothing! She naively believes everything that is told to her by every single person, even when she has explicitly been warned against this. Told not to trust anyone in the Realms? She immediately trusts EVERY SINGLE PERSON SHE MEETS. Oh, here’s a girl who was in the Order before and has made herself “mad” to avoid Cerci? Let’s NOT believe anything she has to say. It’s endlessly frustrating.

What’s more, the story opens with the reader witnessing a scene that explicitly makes it clear that a few characters are set against Gemma from the start. But then we have to go through an entire book watching her naively work with these characters. So not only is Gemma herself frustratingly naive to follow, making all of the wrong decisions for no good reason, but the reader is already set ahead of her, knowing more than she does from the start and yet still stuck in her ignorance. For any canny reader, the “twists” could be spotted a mile away which just makes it all the more frustrating watching Gemma and Co. struggle on. When she finally does realize things, there isn’t any breath of relief. You’re already 100 pages past that stage and simply want to smack her for not getting it earlier. Her following morose is all the more infuriating.

And lastly, the third member of the love triangle (you know it’s bad when the presence of a love triangle hasn’t even made the cut for my list of things to vent about) is essentially a date rapist and THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED. He tries to get Gemma away from the others at a ball, and when this doesn’t work, he gets her drunk on absinthe, and then lures her to a remote part of the house and begins seducing her. They’re only interrupted by one of her visions which scares him out of it. And then the whole thing is forgotten, other than Gemma being embarrassed by her own behavior mid-vision!

There is zero discussion about this man’s intentions, the wrongness of his drugging her and attempting to seduce her, or anything. He continues to be a romantic interest! For a book, and author, that makes a big deal about talking about feminist and societal issues, I honestly couldn’t believe what I was reading. I kept waiting for the admonitions to role in, for Gemma to realize what a scumbag this guy was, for anything! There was nothing. It was left as if nothing had happened, he had done no wrong, and Gemma’s only concern was the worry that her own behavior would put him off. There’s no excuse for this. For young women reading this book, they are left with a scene like this presented as ordinary, ok, and not worth revisiting other than potentially shaming the girl caught up in it for getting too drunk and putting off the potential husband.

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(source)

So, it’s clear I had a lot of feelings about this book. For as many complaints as I had, I do feel compelled to finish the series, if only to see where Bray ends up leaving her characters in the end. Again, a lot happened in this book and you’d expect some character growth to come out of it, for us to have new versions of the same characters in the next book. But I had that expectation for this book and was utterly disappointed, so I’m not holding out hope. My prediction is that they will all behave the same exact way for way too many pages. I guess we’ll find out.

Rating 4: Complete lack of character growth and some very irresponsible messages leave this book as a disappointment.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rebel Angels” is included on the Goodreads lists “Victorian YA Novels” and “Private School Paranormals.”

Find “Rebel Angels” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Flame in the Mist”

23308087Book: “Flame in the Mist” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from NetGalley!

Book Description: The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Review: Right off the bat, there were several things going for this book when I first saw that it was coming out. First and foremost, I had very much liked Abdieh’s previous YA fantasy duology, a re-telling of “One Thousand and One Nights, “The Wrath and the Dawn” and “The Rose and the Dagger.” Together they made up a unique re-telling of one of the few remaining fairytales that hasn’t been beaten into the ground (this coming from an avid fan of fairytale re-tellings), and the style of writing appealed to me with its lyrical quality. “Flame in the Mist” had the same elements. To its detriment.

I want to applaud the author, however, for sticking to her guns in choosing lesser known stories and focusing her world-building and characters on non-European/western settings and cultures. Here we have what is essentially a “Mulan” re-telling set in a proto-Asian setting. I don’t have a wealth of knowledge of Chinese/Japanese/etc cultures, so I can’t speak to those aspects of the book (similar to my lack of knowledge of the “realism” of the Middle Eastern setting used in her previous duology). However, both that series and this are set in fantasy worlds, for all their similarities, so outside of blatant issues (which there were none that I could tell), there was a lot of free reign to build a completely new world order/culture with this story. This was one aspect of the story that I really enjoyed. It was refreshing to read a fantasy story that takes place in an eastern setting. This left not only the fantasy elements to learn and to explore, but also the immersive quality of being quite outside my own culture, while still having threads to tie back to what little I do already know of the regions of the world that this story draws from. Full marks for world building.

Unfortunately, that leads me to the rest of the story, all of which I had more issues with. First off, I feel that, as a reader, I would have been better served having this book not presented to me as a “Mulan” re-telling. For better or worse, my knowledge of that story is pretty well tied up with the Disney version. I know the story is based on a traditional Chinese fairytale of a young woman who dresses and fights as a man, but I haven’t read it and couldn’t even speak to the accuracy of Mulan. So…Disney’s all I’ve got with this one. And as far as this book goes I got far too little of this:

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And far too much of this:

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One of the things that made Disney!Mulan’s story appealing were the noble and, most importantly in this case, understandable reasons for why she does what she does. Her hand is quite literally forced, for love of her father and nothing more. Sure, she feels out of place in her own skin and that she is letting her family down, but she never contemplates abandoning home until the situation with her father being called to war comes to play. Not so with Mariko.

For all intents and purposes, Mariko is quite acceptable as a daughter. Sure she’s frustrated and angered by the fact that she is being traded away in marriage, but alas, such is the life she was born to lead. In the short introduction we are given to her character before the action sets in, we are given every reason to think that Mariko is above all a practical and dutiful daughter. These are traits she prides herself in. But then her caravan is attacked, her guards and maid killed, and she finds herself wandering around in the woods alone. And this is where I first knew there were going to be issues for me with this book. Mariko rightly worries that her situation is going to be problematic for her family to explain; when/if she returns home, her virtue could be called into question due to this, and through this, her family’s honor. What is to be done? Obviously, running away, disguising herself as a boy, and tracking down those who attacked her so that she can save her virtue. Somehow.

I’m a fantasy reader, I’m more than happy to turn my brain off and go on many an adventure where implausible things happen. But only so far as the world allows. This type of blatant, plot-serving faulty logic drives me bonkers. How in the world could dressing up as a boy and hanging out with a bunch of (male!) thieves improve her chances of retaining her family’s honor and her own virtue? Nothing about it makes sense. And unfortunately, this type of backwards thinking continues for Mariko throughout the story. She sometimes even made the right decision, but made it for such the wrong reason that I couldn’t even give her credit for it.

Beyond this, I’ve found that in this, the third book I’ve read by this author, the writing is starting to get on my nerves. What came off as lyrical and appropriate in the previous duology, read as strained and forced here. Perhaps the focus on storytelling that was at the center of the other two books simply lent itself better to this type of writing, and now, removed from that topic, it simply felt awkward. It’s hard to even describe, really, as sentence-by-sentence there’s nothing wrong with the writing. But as I kept reading, it just kind of built up as an annoyance, and enough of one that I repeatedly found myself putting the book down.

“The Flame in the Mist” was not for me. I could never get behind Mariko as a main character with her blatantly contradictory thought process and decision making, and the more dramatic and lyrical writing style seemed to rub uncomfortably with this more action-oriented tale. For those looking for a good woman/warrior story, pull out the classic “Alanna” series instead. Or, hey, check out the “Bloodbond” series that I recently finished up and loved.

Rating 4: My expectations were too high for this wanna-be-Mulan story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Flame in the Mist” is included on these Goodreads lists: “SF & F Atlas – Asia” and “Fairytales for Wild Girls.”

Find “Flame in the Mist” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “To Catch a Killer”

29939266Book: “To Catch a Killer” by Sheryl Scarborough

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, February 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father’s identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother’s best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother’s killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she’s secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she’s close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it’s too late.

Review: Back in the mid 2000s, the world was introduced to the character of Dexter Morgan in the book “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”, which in turn became a hit television series. In this book/TV series, the premise is that Dexter, a forensics lab employee in Miami, is a murderous psychopath, his psychopathy put into place when he witnessed his mother brutally murdered when he was a toddler and was left in a storage locker with her body for a couple of days. In “To Catch A Killer” similar circumstances just leaves Erin with some mild PTSD and a deep interest in forensics. Now I don’t know which situation is more true to life, and my guess is that for a lot of people it would be more a happy medium between the two. But that said, I’m less inclined to believe Scarborough’s scenario than Dexter’s.

Honestly, there were a few things in “To Catch A Killer” that I had a hard time stomaching. For one thing, it felt to me like many of the characters weren’t terribly well thought out. First of all, there’s Erin. I liked Erin enough, actually, she had a solid voice and some pretty fun snappy moments. But like I mentioned above, I just have a hard time thinking that a person who went through that kind of trauma would have more issues than a fascination with forensics and some pretty remote and just mentioned in passing PTSD symptoms. Oh, and a hard time trusting boys, leading to a dating drought in her life. While I did appreciate her quirks and her interests (as I too was a fan of “Natural Born Killers” when I was a teenager), I was never quite buying how together she was, especially since it made it sound like Rachel, her guardian, never really wanted to discuss the murder with her, or even talk about her mother at all. Along with Erin feeling a bit unrealistic, her friends were broad templates of the ‘awesome best friends’ without ever really having much depth added to them. Spam especially, who is the ‘cool gamer girl with the funky sense of style’ trope, and never really moves beyond it. Lysa also functions as a loyal but pragmatic sidekick, there to be a voice of reason and to temper down Spam’s spitfire. I did enjoy that the three of them have their own “Cheater Check” service, where they offer up their forensic investigative services to catch cheating boyfriends and girlfriends, so it wasn’t just Erin who was a science minded lady. I’ll always support girls having science minded role models in fiction. And then there’s Journey, the love interest/potential suspect. Erin knows that he couldn’t have done it, which takes on an interesting angle that could have been explored. While it may be a sort of trite angle, without it Journey is a bit watered down. He has a tragic backstory as well involving his father, but it never really elicited much emotion from me. These teens never felt like they were real teens, but a broad idea of what teenagers act like.

The mystery of ‘who killed Miss P/Erin’s Mom’ is the bigger theme of this book, and the smaller one is ‘who is Erin’s Dad’. Within the first few chapters I had pretty clearly figured out the answers to both questions, and while many red herrings were thrown at me, I ended up being right in the end. I think that had I enjoyed the journey of getting to the conclusion, had I enjoyed the characters and enjoyed how they pieced things together, I would have liked this book more overall. I don’t necessarily read books like this just for the mystery, but for the detection and the investigation. The only parts that I really enjoyed involved Erin’s uncle Victor, Rachel’s brother. He’s an FBI Agent who has written a number of books about crime investigations, and I did enjoy it when he and Erin interacted and geeked out over forensics. These scenes were both fun because of the well researched science that was involved, and because the chemistry between Erin and Victor did feel genuine. Their moments of science and tech geekery were really fun ways to introduce this kind of stuff to the reader, and I really can appreciate that.

I think that overall “To Catch A Killer” had promise, but it just wasn’t the book for me. Perhaps someone super into forensics would enjoy it more, but it didn’t quite stand on it’s own when it wasn’t talking about that stuff.

Rating 4: While it had scenes and moments of cool science and a pretty solid (if not at times unrealistic) main character, “To Catch A Killer” didn’t stand up underneath all it wanted to do.

Reader’s Advisory:

“To Catch a Killer” is fairly new and not on many specific lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Forensics: If It Doesn’t Walk, We Bring Out The Chalk”, and  “Forensic Fiction”.

Find “To Catch a Killer” at your library using WorldCat!