Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Waking Land”

32671619Book: “The Waking Land” by Callie Bates

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC giveaway from Goodreads & ARC NetGalley e-book

Book Description: Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Review: First off, thank you to the publisher and Goodreads for providing me this book through a give away! I also read a portion of it through an e-book ARC provided by NetGalley. You know, cuz I need to be able to read the book at ANY GIVEN MOMENT and thus need copies available in every format.

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(source)

Anywho! On to the review! Beyond the beautiful cover (yes, I do judge a book by its cover when it suits me, thank you very much), I was instantly intrigued after reading the story synopsis. It sounded like an appealing mix of political intrigue, manners and etiquette, and, of course, magic. And while it was all of those things, there were a few stumbling blocks along the way.

First off, the political intrigue. It became very clear early in the book that the author was drawing inspiration from the Jacobite rebellion between Scotland and England to create the history and heart of the conflict in her story. There are two countries occupying an island nation, one has been overthrown in recent history, but still hopes to put their own choice leader on the thrown and regain independence for their portion of the country. Obviously, there’s much more to it than this, but at its core, it’s fairly straightforward. I was very pleased with this portion of the story. It was interesting finding similar threads to real history sprinkled within this fantasy novel, especially when those threads diverged from the path with which we are familiar.

Bates clearly had a lot of world building she was trying to pack in this novel. Beyond these tie-ins to the Jacobite rebellion, there’s a complicated history that goes back centuries before it, involving not only these two nations, but another powerful nation who had conquered the entire region at one point and then retreated again.  Detailed histories likes this make a story interesting, but they also present a challenge to authors. All too often books end up with large info-dumps presenting all of these details, which no one loves. But here, we saw the opposite side of the coin. I was a good 150 pages into this story and was still trying to work out the timeline of who conquered who when and why. At a certain point, it was so frustrating that I simply gave up trying to understand. I hesitate to recommend more info dumping, but in circumstances like this, it’s probably the better option than sprinkling in details throughout a long-ish book where much of the plot revolves around the political implications of this history and readers end up just confused.

I did love the magical set up that was brought into the story. Sure there was the cool magic that Elanna was able to create, but the more interesting part was, again, the detailed framework and history behind her power. Not only are her powers needed for the rebellion, but the symbol that she represents as a corner of the tri-part governing force that traditionally ruled the land is highly motivating to the people.

I had mixed feelings with regards to Elanna herself. Her history (the stolen child of a failed rebel leader being held to keep the other side in check) is one that sets her up to have many conflicting feelings and views of those around her. Things like family, friendship, and even national loyalty are all tied together in knots. She feels abandoned by one family, guilty for developing attachments to her captors, questions everyone’s motives around her, questions her own loyalties. Much of this was very interesting and created a rich character arc for her to travel. Unfortunately, all too often she would perform complete 180s on a dime with very little explanation for why she changed her mind. She hates her father! She’ll join her father in this rebellion! Also, while the stress and frustration that would arise from her situation is understandable, at times she read as very unlikable and immature. I never could quite decide how I felt about her. Ultimately, I think I was more invested in the story that she was living than in her as a character on her own.

So there are my thoughts! To be summed up, I was very conflicted with this book. It had true moments of brilliance with a unique and complicated history, both political and magical, and the main character also had flashes of greatness. But I was also all too often confused by the same history and frustrated with Elanna herself. I would still likely recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical “fantasy of manners” type books based on its strengths. Want to judge for yourself? Enter our giveaway to receive an ARC of this book!

Enter to win an ARC of ‘The Waking Land!”

Rating 6: Had so many things going on (complicated history, complicated characters) that it didn’t quite manage to fully flesh it all out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Waking Land” is new and isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy of Manners” and “Best Books Containing Elemental Powers.”

Find “The Waking Land” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”

119427Book: “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” by Jennifer Lynch

Publishing Info: Pocket, January 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Laura Palmer was introduced to television audiences in the opening scenes of “Twin Peaks”–as a beautiful dead girl, wrapped in plastic. Now available in print for the first time in many years (and in e-book for the very first time!), THE SECRET DIARY OF LAURA PALMER chronicles Laura’s life from age 12 to her death at 17, and is filled with secrets, character references, and even clues to the identity of her eventual killer. Fans of the show will love seeing their favorite characters again, and Laura’s diary makes compelling reading as she turns from a naive freshman having her first kiss to a “bad girl” experimenting with drugs, sex and the occult.

“As seen by” Jennifer Lynch, creator David Lynch’s daughter, THE SECRET DIARY OF LAURA PALMER is authentic, creepy, and a perfect book for anyone who loves supernatural suspense.

Review: In case it hasn’t become abundantly clear at this point, I am a HUGE HUGE HUGE “Twin Peaks” fan. It was a show that burned too bright and went out too fast, but went on to change television as we know it. When I finally got to start watching the recent revival, I felt a need to actually get my hands on one of the tie ins to the show that I had heard of, but never actually experienced. That is, of course, the notorious “The Secret Life of Laura Palmer”, a book that is supposed to be the journal of the doomed and tragic Laura Palmer, the victim whose murder kicks off the series. It’s notorious because, similar to books like “Flowers in the Attic” and “Go Ask Alice”, it has a reputation for being salacious and scandalous.

There is definitely something that should be said right away about this book: if you are not familiar with the show “Twin Peaks” and it’s mythos, this book is probably not going to make much sense to you. Jennifer Lynch, daughter of the show’s creator (and amateur meteorologist) David Lynch, writes these diary entries and expects that the reader is going to understand who these characters are and what the significance is to the various situations that Laura describes. So while I knew why it was absolutely upsetting when on page 4 Laura write ‘p.s., I hope BOB doesn’t come tonight’, those who are going in blind would not. My advice would be that if you haven’t seen the show this book should probably be avoided until you have, not only because of confusion but also major spoilers to the plot. All that said, I found it to be a fun(?) read because of the hidden references and the first person perspective from the girl who was dead in episode one. I also have to admit that I smiled pretty broadly every time there was mention of one of my favorite characters from the show, like Bobby Briggs or Audrey Horne. This book also does a good job of expanding upon characters that we only saw through the show’s perspective, and showing sides that perhaps they couldn’t or wouldn’t show after Laura’s murder. This mostly applies to my bae Bobby Briggs. On the show we mostly see an angry teenage boy who makes dumb decisions and generally acts like a brooding whiner. But I loved that in this book we saw the sweet side that was long extinguished by the time we get to know him.

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When you are both vindicated and hurting in your love for Bobby Briggs. (source)

But, all that said, as fun as the references and new perspectives were, this book doesn’t really tell me anything that I don’t know about Laura Palmer and how awful and sad her life was. If anything, it merely puts the awful abuse, torture, and sadness that she endured on full display. I need to give Jennifer Lynch the utmost credit for writing the voice of a pre-teen to teenage girl so well. As I was reading this book there were so many moments that I thought to myself ‘yep, my diary entries at this age totally sounded like this’ (to an extent), and I think that it was a genius move to let not only a woman, but the daughter of the series creator as well write it. But the authenticity just made all the stories of sexual abuse, drug use, sex work, and violence feel all the more awful. I know that some of the appeal of books like this one and “Flowers in the Attic” is the taboo-ness of reading them, but when you are reading about a teenage girl recounting all the awful things she has been made to do and the reckless and dangerous coping mechanisms she finds herself in, I was less ‘wow this is fun’ and more ‘ugh, this makes me want to take a shower’. It’s not that I found it exploitative, exactly, as I think that Lynch is very good and making it uncomfortable and decidedly NOT sexy. But I did find it upsetting. Which, at it’s heart, Laura Palmer’s story is supposed to be. By seeing this side of her, it shows her as more than just that smiling picture that everyone thinks of when they think of the show.

“The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” isn’t necessarily a ‘must read’ for fans of the show, and it certainly isn’t a way for people to get an introduction to the show’s universe. But I appreciate that it gives Laura Palmer a more personal voice than the show did (and I can’t speak for the movie “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” as I have not seen it). Maybe I would have had more fun if it was the secret diary of Audrey Horne.

Rating 6: While it’s enjoyable for a “Twin Peaks” fan like me, it doesn’t really add much new to the canon beyond a personal perspective. But that personal perspective is super sad and tragic.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” is included on the Goodreads lists “Epistolary Fiction”, and “Twin Peaks”.

Find “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Into the Water”

33151805Book: “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionA single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

Review: A couple years ago I got the book “The Girl on the Train” from my library, a spoil of war known as the ‘New Items Wall’. I had been waiting for it to be up for the allotted amount of time employees have to wait before it’s up for grabs, and as soon as that time was up I grabbed it and claimed it as my own. It didn’t take me long to read it. I found it pretty okay. I was entertained, even if I guessed the big twist long before the reveal was meant to happen. Though it’s gotten a bit of backlash as of late, I knew that anything else that Paula Hawkins wrote would get a lot of attention, and that I would be interested in reading it. So enter “Into the Water”, the newest book by Paula Hawkins. Like “The Girl on the Train”, I had to wait for this one to pass the time limit. And then I grabbed it for myself.

When “Into the Water” took me in, it took me in pretty hard. The book is told through multiple perspectives, each of them slowly giving tiny pieces of the overall puzzle as to what exactly happened to the two dead ladies who drowned in the local pond. The first is Katie, a teenage girl who jumped to her death from the cliff above the drowning pool. The second is Nel, a single mother whose daughter, Lena, was best friends with Katie. No one knows what happened to Nel. She was writing a book about the large number of women who died in the drowning pool over the years, either by suicide, witch craft trial, or straight up murder. Various perspectives include the eyes of Jules, Nel’s sister, Lena, Nel’s daughter, Sean, a detective and a man with his own connection to the pool, and Erin, Sean’s partner on the force. These four voices were the strongest of the bunch, as others either felt overdramatic (the mother of Katie was especially grating, even though I did feel sympathy for her), superfluous (a local psychic who has her own beef with Sean’s family), or just downright yucky (Mark, a teacher who may have had an improper relationship with one of his students). While they all added their own important pieces, it was hard to keep track of all of them at times at first. You add in chapters from Nel’s book about the other women who died in the drowning pool and you get a lot of information to process as you are paging through quickly because it’s so enthralling.

I had a few theories about what was going on this book, and unlike “The Girl on the Train” I wasn’t totally convinced about what had happened very early one. While I liked that it kept me guessing pretty well, I did take issue with the fact that this book is the kind of story that likes to keep yanking the rug out from under you. I am okay with twists and turns, but I get really sore when a solution is presented, a conclusion is presumed, and then in the last paragraph, NAY, the last SENTENCE, the solution is completely thrown out the window and a new reality is set in place. That’s not clever to me, that’s not inventive or an ‘ah ha!’ moment. That’s a cop out, and I am not impressed with cop outs.

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(source)

I think that I need to just start to accept the fact that while I am definitely going to keep up with Paula Hawkins books in the future, I’m going to have to accept that for me it’s going to be less about the solution and more about the journey getting there. I would definitely say that “Into the Water” kept me entertained and captivated well until the final pages were turned, but on the other side of the coin the ending was a huge let down. What I will say is that Hawkins knows how to construct a mystery and a thriller, and just because the endings have disappointed me it doesn’t mean that I will completely overlook the experience as a whole.

Rating 6: Incredibly engrossing and addictive, but with a dud of an ending, “Into the Water” kept me going but left me frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Water” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Crime Books You’re Excited For!”, and “2017 Suspense and Thrillers”.

Find “Into the Water” at your local library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “The Inquisitor’s Tale”

29358517We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” by Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Beloved bestselling author Adam Gidwitz makes his long awaited return with his first new world since his hilarious and critically acclaimed Grimm series. Featuring manuscript illuminations throughout by illustrator Hatem Aly and filled with Adam’s trademark style and humor, The Inquisitor’s Tale is bold storytelling that’s richly researched and adventure-packed.

Beautifully illustrated throughout! Includes a detailed historical note and bibliography.

Kate’s Thoughts

Guess who has never read “The Canterbury Tales”? Me! Guess who isn’t really into Medieval Fiction? Also me! And guess who knows little to nothing about religion and the philosophy of it beyond the most basic tenants of Judaism and United Church of Christ Christianity? This girl! So I feel like all of these factors combine (as well as some spates of bathroom humor, one of the few types of humor that doesn’t especially appeal to me) to make “The Inquisitor’s Tale” a book that isn’t written for me. So yes, while I understand the praise for this book and the appeal of it, and understand why it works so well as a children’s book and does so much more than other children’s books, I never really got into it myself.

That isn’t to say that there wasn’t anything I liked about it. I liked that it asked some pretty deep philosophical questions that you usually don’t see in children’s literature. I feel like Gidwitz doesn’t patronize to his audience, and that he knows that these are hard questions to wrap minds around regardless of what age you are. What makes a Saint? How can some people say that they hold certain values and beliefs, and not realize that they are perpetuating cruelty towards others, especially those that they claim to care about? What are ways that stories can be told and passed on, and how can these stories be changed based on the storyteller? I also liked that Gidwitz had three very different protagonists to show different walks of life and different experiences that would have been common during this time period. You have Jeanne, the peasant girl who can see parts of the future, who has to function in a society where women and peasants hold no value. You have William, a boy raised to be a monk who is both of African and Muslim descent, and stands out among those around him. And there’s Jacob, a Jewish boy in a France where King Louis persecutes the Jews as heretics. Seeing all these kids come together (along with Jeanne’s resurrected dog Gwenforte) and try to understand each other is a great message.

I also had a very hard time reading about the anti-Semitism in this book, be it villages being burnt to the ground, Jews being humiliated and threatened with violence, and Talmuds being burnt. I know that it was the reality of the time period, but for whatever reason I really struggled with it and had to set the book down a number of times and calm down before I could continue reading. I appreciate that Gidwitz was being honest about this time period, of course, and I really liked the extensive historical notes that he put in the back of the book, and yet I wasn’t really on board for the ‘Louis was a complex person who thought he was doing what was right, no matter how wrong it was’ stuff. Because at the end of the day, no matter how noble Louis thought he was being, it WAS wrong. And I have less and less time for those kinds of explanations these days.

My personal issues with this book shouldn’t necessarily reflect this book. It just wasn’t for me, but I definitely see how it would be an appealing read for other people.

Serena’s Thoughts

From the other side of the spectrum, I have read “The Canterbury Tales!” I am into Medieval fiction (at least as far as the fact that much fantasy is set in some type of medieval-like world)! And I was raised Lutheran, so at least the Christian theological philosophy was fairly familiar to me! So I think Kate is right, there are some factors going in that if you have as a reader you’re perhaps more likely to immediately engage with the book. However, massive caveat in this whole theory is that this is a middle school children’s book and let’s be real, how many kids have read “Canterbury Tales” or have a strong understanding of religious philosophy??

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Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (source)

So, while I did enjoy the story more than Kate did, I do have to agree with her on a few of the downsides of the book. Most notably the potty humor and, for me, the suspension of disbelief in a few parts.

But first the pros! Since by an large I did very much enjoy this book. I won’t repeat what Kate said about the great diversity of the cast, except for one extra note. I really appreciated the close up look at exclusion/inclusion that the narrator took with these three children. Yes, they are all in this together. And yes, they are all friends. But at various points throughout the book, even with the friendships that have formed from their shared experiences, they each have to confront the sense of “otherness” that comes from their own unique walk of life. For William,  he’s a black boy with two white children. For Jeanne, she’s a girl with two boys. For Jacob, he’s a Jewish boy with two Christian children. I loved the various triangles that were made up and the constant shift that was in play from situation to situation with each of their “ins” or “outs” becoming a strength or something that made them stand out as different. I felt that this was a really important message for a book like this: privilege comes in all shapes and forms and at any given moment any single person can be on the in or the out, so we must all be aware and kind.

I’ll also throw in a few good words for the illustrations! I loved the metacommentary of the way the book was illustrated, mimicking the images that monks would draw into the margins of their transcribing work. Some would align with the action of the story while others were intentionally obtuse (a fact that is noted in the beginning of the story, that the illustrator would draw what came to him, with some images existing without connection to the story or explanation).

The ties to “The Canterbury Tales” were also fun, with the story being told by various narrators. I loved the way this element of the book came to life towards the last third, drawing these outside forces into the story itself. There were a few very clever twists with this that I don’t want to spoil! That said, as I mentioned above, I doubt any kid reading this will have read “The Canterbury Tales” and I don’t think there is anything missing for it. It’s more just a fun plug for those English nerds out there who have plowed through that thing and all of its incomprehensible Old English.

But I also agree with a few of the down points that Kate mentioned, notably the potty humor. This is purely a personal preference thing, as I know many kids (and adults!) love this type of humor. But there was one side plot that really lost me as it focused almost entirely on these types of jokes. Secondly, there were a few points in the story where my suspension of disbelief was called into question. We’re dealing with magical children, so for the most part I was ready to just go with this. But there were a few scenes, notably a fight scene where William beats up a bunch of bandits with a donkey leg, that pushed me out of the story a bit wondering how much of the “real world” this story was supposed to be set in.

Those issues aside, I really enjoyed this book. It is a tough read in parts like Kate mentioned. Serious issues are tackled and the persecution and tragedy of the time period weren’t glossed over. I appreciated this fact, but it does make for some sad happenings. But ultimately I would recommend this book to middle schoolers and adults. It’s one of those rare children’s books that can equally appeal to adults.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong middle school story set in a unique time period with a lot to say about history, religion, and inclusiveness.

Kate’s Rating 6: I see the value and I understand the praise, but I had a harder time with this book than I would have liked.

Book Club Questions

  1. This book is told from multiple perspectives when a group of people gather in a pub to recall the story of the three kids. Did you have a favorite perspective voice?
  2. The illustrations in this book are similar to that of illuminated texts that are seen throughout history in religious works. Have you ever encountered this kind of illustration before? What did you think of the illustrations?
  3. King Louis IX was an actual person in history, as was his mother Blanche, as were other people mentioned in this book. What did you think of using real people in this fictional story?
  4. Each of the main characters comes from a different walk of life, has their own set of challenges to overcome, and their own magical powers. Did one of these characters stand out more to you? Why?
  5. This story tackles a lot of big questions about religion and diversity. Did any of these points stand out to you as particularly strong? Could any have been improved upon or weren’t fully realized?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Inquisitor’s Tale” is included on the Goodreads lists “Newbery Medal Honor Books”, and “Bravewriter Boomerangs”.

Find “The Inquisitor’s Tale” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making”.

 

Serena’s Review: “The Valiant”

30375703Book: “The Valiant” by Lesley Livingston

Publishing Info: Razorbill, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

Review: If you read the above description and thought to yourself “that sounds a lot like the movie ‘Gladiator’ but with a teenage girl instead of Russel Crowe,” well….you wouldn’t be wrong. Your mileage for whether or not that is a good or bad thing will depend on your opinion of that movie. I thought it was quite enjoyable, but I love overly dramatic action movies myself. So with that in mind, and firmly stifling any inner thoughts about historical accuracy, I was excited when this book arrived on the hold shelf at my library last week and jumped right in. And…it was kind of what I expected, there were things I enjoyed, but ultimately I wasn’t blown over by the book as a whole.

First to the pros! This book is non stop action, almost from the very first page where we meet Fallon attempting to execute a dangerous, yet flashy, spear throw from a precarious balance point on a racing chariot. The scene is set. Fallon is a no-holds-barred warrior princess, and I am happy to report that she sticks to these guns throughout the book. We are not simply told that she is an excellent fighter, we see it proven to us time and again.

With break neck speed, the novel rushes through our introductions to Fallon, her father, who is still devastated by the loss of his eldest daughter, Sorcha (who was a brilliant fighter in her own right and essentially raised Fallon and taught her everything she knows), and setting the stage that was Fallon’s life so far. And with equal swiftness, that rug is swept out from Fallon’s, and our, feet, and she’s off to Rome, a captured slave destined for the gladiatorial arenas. Lots of training, fighting, and political drama thus ensues.

And for the most part, I very much enjoyed this fast paced style. The book never sets out to present an in-depth character study of Fallon or historical analysis of her homeland (Britain) and its relationship with the conquering Rome. The book is meant to be full of fight scenes, and full of fight scenes it is. Character development does fall to the wayside with this approach, though Fallon remains true to her original characterization throughout, which was a relief.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Elka, a fellow slave-turned-gladiatrix (yes, that is what the female gladiators are called and I cringed every time it came up). Elka is badassery defined. And she also turns into a true and steady friend for Fallon. About halfway through the book, she sadly begins to fade into the background, but whenever she reappeared, I was reminded of how much color she added to the story. Fallon herself was a steady character, but her steadiness also read as a bit one-note at times. Elka’s more electric presence helped reinforce Fallon herself.

Most of my qualms came in the form of the romance. *sigh* All too often that is the case for me, and I was sorry to see it happen here as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the romance. But it is never built up. Cai, a Roman soldier, is given no unique traits and seems to, out of nowhere, fall in love with Fallon. And she with him. The amount of time they know each other is minuscule. The natural biases they would have against each other would seemingly be insurmountable, both based on the strife between their countries and the fact that he is a soldier who has probably been trained from birth to look down on slaves and she is a warrior whose father’s spirit was broken by Roman soldiers. It just seems like it should have been more difficult, or at least taken longer and be given more attention for a true-feeling relationship to develop. I simply didn’t care about Cai or this relationship. Elka’s and Fallon’s relationship is much better developed. And frankly, I would have been more than happy to have a book that is already largely focused on the sisterly bonds that can be formed between women and the power this can give them to have based its primary relationships on these only with no need to add romance into the mix at all.

There were also a few “surprises” that weren’t surprises at all if you are familiar with the genre. I was able to quite easily predict the most major twist, and also understand the character motivations that were later revealed, thus making Fallon’s shock and struggle to understand these same points a bit tiresome to plow through.

So, while I did enjoy the action, and Fallon was a decent lead character (if made better by supporting characters like Elka), the story was a bit too predictable and the romance way too tepid for me to completely fall in love with this book. I’ll mark the second one as a “to read” but I don’t feel any anxiety in the wait for its release. However, if you want a strong YA female warrior book and don’t mind a few stale aspects, this might be worth checking out!

Rating 6: Strong action and a likeable heroine weren’t enough to make this book completely engrossing, but it accomplishes its main goal and was a quick read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Valiant” is a newly released book so isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it has themes fitting of “Best Historical Fiction About Ancient Rome” and “Young Adult Female Fighters.”

Find “The Valiant” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Silence Fallen”

30687916Book: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-galley from NetGalley

Book Description: Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Review: The tenth book in the Mercy Thompson series sees our intrepid heroine off on her own, kidnapped to another country. While the series is beginning to show its age, I still very much enjoy these characters, and choosing to set the story in a new location added a new dimension to a familiar story.

Mercy Thompson remains my one of two favorite urban fantasy heroines (right up there with Kate Daniels), and, as the series has progressed, she has been the primary draw for my returning to the series. As I mentioned earlier, this is the 10th book, and with a long-running series like this, its not surprising that story arcs can begin to feel familiar and the cast of characters begins to be unmanageably large. Briggs uses a clever trick to side-step both of these issues by setting this book in Europe after Mercy is kidnapped by a powerful Italian vampire. Suddenly we’re in a new location and the cast of characters involved is greatly reduced to only Mercy herself and Adam and the select few others he brings along on his “rescue” mission (the term “rescue” always requires quotes when it comes to Mercy as she is typically as capable of getting herself out of trouble as she is at getting herself into it, though she gets a pass on that last part in this one as her kidnapping was clearly not of her own volition). We’ve had a few other books where we’ve swapped viewpoints between Mercy and Adam, and here that format is utilized once again.

Mercy’s storyline is fairly straight forward. Escape her kidnappers, travel across Europe, somehow land in even more hot water, and learn more about her shapeshifter heritage and how her unique powers to see and talk with ghosts could mean even more than she had previously known. The first bit is pretty par for the course. At this point there really isn’t much tension that can be built around Mercy’s original dilemma. We’ve seen her kidnapped or in the clutches of a much more powerful being one too many times to be really intimidated by this setting, and, smartly, Briggs moves past this fairly quickly.

One of the remaining mysteries in this series is Mercy’s background as a child of Coyote, a powerful Native American spirit, and what gifts this has bestowed upon her. My favorite parts of this story revolved around the added depth that was given to this topic and the introduction of a much more vast and expansive history for Coyote’s influence and work in the greater world. Briggs also introduced a new creature with the Golem of Prague, a powerful being whose mysteries Mercy must unlock to save herself and the city.

Adam’s storyline was much more…political. While I enjoyed seeing a few of my favorite characters back (Stephan has been absent quite a lot in the last several books), it was also disappointing to find that much of his story arc ultimately served very little purpose. The larger dynamics that take place within the vampire seethes worldwide was interesting, but Briggs sets up the Italian vampire lord as one of the most powerful supernatural beings in the world and then…it all kind of comes to nothing? There were a few exciting moments, but much of this arc was taken up with carefully worded negotiations and power plays, but very little action. And in the end, the reader is kind of left wondering what was the point of it all?

There was also a neat twist towards the end that I didn’t see coming. However, it also threw a few things into question. Adam’s perspective makes up half of the story, and we know that he would be informed of this particular secret, but when we’re reading his earlier sections, it reads as if he is unaware of this. I know that this is to keep the reader in the dark, but it doesn’t ring true that Adam would think/act this way knowing the truth that we later find out. When it was revealed, I found it to be very jarring and had to go back and re-read several section to both now further appreciate what was going on and to confirm that yes, it was weird that this was written this way in the first place given Adam’s knowledge of it the whole time. This seems like a small quibble for what was actually a very neat reveal. But I wish there had been a way to neaten it up so that that same fun reveal wasn’t undercut by what had come before.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed Mercy’s story line, but I was left underwhelmed by Adam’s. I still loved reading chapters from his perspective, but the arc he was given wasn’t strong. For an Alpha werewolf, he was given very little actual action, and the end results of his storyline didn’t feel worth the time it was given throughout the book. In the end, I’m not quite sure why it was even necessary to split this book into two parts. The ending would have needed to be changed, but it feels like very little tweaking would have been necessary to focus this story in on the more interesting arc and do away with the overly extended political maneuvering all together. Especially given that, by the end, things simply felt re-set and I was still left questioning the point of it all.

Rating 6: The original strengths of these books (its main characters) are still going strong, but the series is beginning to fray at the edges.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silence Fallen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy “ and “Native American Paranormal.”

Find “Silence Fallen” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviewed: “Mercy Thompson series review” and “Fire Touched”

Kate’s Review: “Good As Gone”

29975458Book: “Good As Gone” by Amy Gentry

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts.  She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter.

Propulsive and suspenseful, Good as Gone will appeal to fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, and keep readers guessing until the final pages.

Review: So back in the day there was a “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” episode called “Stranger” in which a girl who disappeared a number of years prior came back to her family, but it turned out that she wasn’t actually the girl who had disappeared. She was an imposter, and it turned out that the reason the sister was so skeptical and cruel towards her was because SHE HERSELF HAD KILLED THE MISSING GIRL ALL THOSE YEARS AGO. WHAT A TWIST.  God I love “SVU”. This is run of the mill nonsense on that show and I come back for it seventeen years in.

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I can’t even deny this. (source)

This episode is based on the real life case of Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at age 13 in 1994. His family was reunited with a man saying that he was Barclay years later… But it turned out he was a fraud named Frédéric Bourdin, a French man who conned many people using false identities. If I’m being honest, when I picked up the book “Good As Gone”, I half expected that to be the case (well maybe not so far as the sister doing the deed in the first place. That’s Grade A SVU malarky right there). But instead of detached and procedural methodical Benson/Stabler realness, I got a book that was actually a bit more twisty and turny, and one that attempts at genuine emotional connection along with the mystery it puts forth.

It’s established right away that Julie may or may not actually be who she says she is. We see these mysterious deceptions through the eyes of Anna, the mother, and through ‘Julie’ herself. I kind of liked that the mystery itself wasn’t based on whether Julie was actually Julie, and that the mystery was whether or not Anna was going to figure it all out. And really, this book is more about the tragedy and trauma that a family has to endure when one of their children disappears, and how everyone copes should they suddenly come back. I think that a lot of the time we only hear about the family being reunited, but rarely do we hear about how hard it can be for everyone to readjust when so much has changed. “Room” certainly takes that theme on, and honestly, “Room” does it better. While it’s good that Gentry did make it clear that the damage is far reaching in this family, and that a potential reappearance isn’t going to just fix everything, I think that the problem for me is that, outside of younger sister Jane, I didn’t really connect to any of the characters in this book. Anna, while I have no doubt her actions are in step with how a person would react in her situation, was so cold and cruel to Jane and sometimes Tom, her husband, I just couldn’t quite get behind her completely. While I don’t doubt that the emotional trauma of losing a child is going to make anyone act in ways that aren’t always healthy, Anna didn’t grab at my sympathy heartstrings so much as put me completely off.

‘Julie”s sections were interesting, going backwards from her ending up on the family doorstep and marching back through time, showing how she got there and the experiences she had to go through. While I know this was done to humanize her and to better understand her psyche, I found myself tempted to skim through these parts. It was a neat way to explain who she was, I will fully admit that, but since she herself didn’t do much for me I wasn’t as invested as others may be. We’re meant to have a lot of mixed feelings about her, and unfortunately it was hard to recover from deep suspicion. And like Anna, I just didn’t quite feel myself attaching to her as a character, even when I saw her going through really horrible and terrible things. Ultimately, it didn’t matter to me if she was who she said she was. The moments I liked best were between her and Jane, the younger sister who always blamed herself for letting a man walk out the door with her older sister as she hid in the closet. Jane was by far the character who intrigued me most, as she has basically been emotionally neglected by her parents because she’s the child who was left behind. Her own guilt festers and manifests in self imposed isolation, and her mother’s veiled resentment throws a wall between them that neither really can push through. It really did make me think about what it must be like for the kids who are left behind in stories like this, and how they handle it.I think that had this book had some perspective chapters from Jane I probably would have enjoyed it quite a bit more.

And on top of everything, the ending (which I’ll leave a mystery for everyone so as not to spoil anything) felt so haphazardly thrown together, with a number of things tied up neatly in a number of bows, that I had a hard time swallowing it. Some things were just too conveniently explained away, and other things were not really addressed as much as I wanted them to be.

“Good As Gone” has all the elements that it needs to make a great book, but the execution left a little to be desired for me. So instead of a great read, it was a fine one. I think that it’s worth your time if you like this genre, but it may leave readers as satisfied as they wish to be.

Rating 6: Yeah, it surprised me a bit here and there, and I liked the overall focus. But I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I wasn’t really invested in whether the girl claiming to be Julie was actually Julie, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with how it all shook out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good As Gone” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Thrillers You Must Read!”.

Find “Good As Gone” at your library using WorldCat!