Kate’s Review: “The Favorite Sister”

36967019Book: “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, May 2018

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

Book Description: When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.

And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for giving me an eARC of this book!

As you’ve seen on my various “Not Just Books” lists on this blog, I do have a soft spot for a couple reality TV shows. I tell myself that my enjoyment of “ANTM” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is rooted within the inherent creativity that is at the heart of the premises; be it fashion modeling and the skills that go into it or the many facets of doing drag as performance and style, I love seeing these contestants do what I know I never could. But I’ll also be honest here: I do enjoy the petty catfights and drama that almost always arises when you put these people into high stress situations. So “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll was SUPER intriguing to me within it’s premise. I quite enjoyed her previous book “Luckiest Girl Alive” because of the issues that she tackled under guise of soapy snideness, so I had hopes that her next story would do the same. Along with juicy, sudsy characters tearing each other to shreds, of course.

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The Vixen is the queen of bringing  up social issues and bringing the drama and I love her for all of it. (source)

So the good news is that this is a book that has a plot and mystery that will completely suck you in and not let you go until it’s good and ready to. I was reading this book on one of our late Spring snow storm days and it was the best way to pass the time because it kept me interested and wanting more. The plot concerns a reality show called “Goal Diggers” and the women who make up the cast of the show and all the problems that they have as they strive to maintain their status and fame. Mostly, it details the lead up to and fallout from the murder of the fan favorite Brett, a spinning studio owner who is proud of her curvy body and is an out and proud lesbian. It’s told between three perspectives and jumping through time: there’s Brett’s perspective, of course, but then there are also the perspectives of Kelly, Brett’s sister (mainly told after the fact), and Stephanie, Brett’s former best friend. They all have their own levels of unreliability, as they all have reasons to lie and distort the facts, and as the story slowly came out the rug got pulled out from under me a number of times. Knoll continues to be adept at creating twists and turns that you don’t see coming, even as she intricately lays the groundwork for them so they feel natural and believable. There were a number of moments where I said ‘whoa’ as a new surprise was sprung, and I definitely felt the need to keep reading to see what was going to happen next.

But ultimately, I think that the biggest drawback of “The Favorite Sister” is that all of the characters are completely reprehensible, and so unlikable that I didn’t find myself connecting to really any of them. While I had a fun time reading about how they were all behaving badly, and how they would all justify their behavior in ways that were totally laughable, I ultimately found myself hating almost all of them. The sole exception to this was Layla, Kelly’s twelve year old daughter, but you don’t get much sense of her outside of being a kind and creative (and driven) kid. I appreciate what Knoll was trying to convey, that even within a show that is supposed to be about lifting women up and encouraging them to think outside of what society wants them to be, they are still going to be judged by each other and by themselves because society is so damn ingrained in them. I get that. I appreciate that. It’s not a bad take at all. But when none of them really move beyond being laughably shallow (Lauren), ridiculously cruel (Jen), horrendously deluded by self grandeur (Brett), or just kind of there (Kelly), who do you root for? I had hoped that I could root for Stephanie, as she is probably the one who comes closest to having complexity. She is the only black woman on the show, she’s edging near the age where cast members generally get the ax, and she’s trying to prove herself beyond being a token and model minority. But ultimately she too was just terrible, and the various things that she was going through never QUITE justified the awful shit that she pulled. This was unfortunate because this derailed the commentary that I think that Knoll was trying to achieve. And it’s not like Knoll doesn’t know how to write unlikable characters who have depth and complexity; Ani in “Luckiest Girl Alive” is INCREDIBLY unlikable, but as you learn more about her past and her experiences you understand why she is the way she is. Stephanie, and the other characters, get some glimpses, but you never get the feeling that their behavior is justified with the limited exposure we do get.

I think that if what you’re looking for is purely guilty pleasure mean girl drama, “The Favorite Sister” will probably scratch that itch and give you everything you need. On a purely entertainment, watching bad people get what they deserve level it was very satisfying. But don’t go in expecting to have characters that you can relate to and root for, because you will not find that here.

Rating 6: While the story itself was engrossing and left me guessing until the very end, “The Favorite Sister” didn’t have the complexities to the characters that I was hoping for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Favorite Sister” is a new book so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Reality Show Themed Novels”. 

Find “The Favorite Sister” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “People Like Us”

35356380Book: “People Like Us” by Dana Mele

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple. 

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

Review: Oh ho ho what’s this? It’s another ‘horrible kids being horrible at boarding school’ book!! My freaking weakness of a book type (or one of many). “People Like Us” by Dana Mele was one of those books that I just randomly stumbled upon on GoodReads thanks to that site’s propensity to feature books on the side of your feed that they are trying to promote. Most of the time I ignore these ads, but on occasion I’m drawn in because of tantalizing covers or large words promising great things, usually of thriller kind. Knowing full well that I was pretty much taking a gamble, I requested it. When it opened with a bunch of boarding school popular girls finding a body, I was immediately drawn in. Because who doesn’t love a bit of salacious carnage to kick off a book? But as the book kept going, it became quite clear that it was going to be something we’ve seen before without pushing many boundaries inside of the genre.

The cast of characters is a pretty standard cast list for a YA thriller/mystery. Our protagonist is Kay, a girl who came to the prep school Bates Private School with two main motivations: to pursue a soccer scholarship for college, and to run away from a trauma from her past. She has a number of secrets she keeps from her other friends in their popular crowd, just as they have secrets from each other as they rule the school and sometimes torment other students. Unfortunately, there was definitely too much of her hinging on on this tragic and secret past of hers, and while it was slowly and carefully unfolded I never really found a moment of connection to Kay. While most of her relationships with her friends are pretty one dimensional, there are a couple exceptions to this: she is attracted to and perhaps in love with her best friend Brie, but their romance has never come to fruition because the timing has always been wrong (or Kay has been misbehaving in some kind of way). And along with Brie there is Nola, a classmate who has always  been seen as weird, but may be Kay’s only hope in solving who is harassing her and targeting her friends. I really liked that Dana Mele treats Kay’s sexuality as just a fact of the story, and that all of these characters were fairly fluid in their sexual identities. But beyond that, none of them were particularly noteworthy or interesting. As Kay’s friends face their various consequences to being jerks, I never felt particularly bad for them, nor did I really feel a sweet satisfaction outside of a general ‘ha ha awful popular kids get what’s coming to them’ feeling. They weren’t likable, but they weren’t interesting enough to be fun to hate either. Too many of them were placed to either be non lethal body counts, or to make the reader wonder if they are the one who set it all up in the first place.

The mystery too was a little lackluster for me. There were plenty of red herrings the muddle the waters effectively, be it misdirection about the mystery at the forefront or the mystery of Kay’s past. But ultimately, I did kind of brush across the solution well before the solution was revealed, even if I didn’t let it stick in my mind. And by the time we did get to the solution, I didn’t feel like we’d come to a big revelation. It just kind of happened, and I felt neither positive nor negative about how it all sussed out in the end. There was one final twist that did shock me, though, which was a nice surprise given that I thought that I had everything totally figured out within that storyline. It’s the little surprises that felt rewarding in this book, but when you don’t find yourself as a ready very invested in the majority of the mystery, or the consequences that it is going to dole out of the characters.

So what made it so readable, perhaps you are wondering? Well honestly, I am always going to be a sucker for the boarding school brats being rotten to each other trope, along with the themes of the misbehaving idle rich getting what they so richly deserve. If you want a standard book within this trope and genre, “People Like Us” is going to fulfill that want and need because it is so by the book (as it were). It almost acted as a comfort read for me, in that I didn’t have to think too deeply about it and that I knew that bad people were going to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes all we want is a book that hits all the things that we want and to be able to just enjoy it for what it is, and I do have to admit that I got that from “People Like Us” when all was said and done.  

If you are looking for a YA thriller mystery that reinvents the wheel, “People Like Us” probably isn’t going to be the read for you. But if you want that familiar comfort of a genre you’ve come to really enjoy without rocking the boat, it could be a good bet.

Rating 6: A fine example of the thriller genre, especially if it takes place in a boarding school, but “People Like Us” doesn’t really do much to set itself outside the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“People Like Us” is included on the Goodreads lists “Prep School Mysteries”, and “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “People Like Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Furyborn”

34323570Book: “Furyborn” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley and BookishFirst

Book Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

Review: I’m pretty sure “Furyborn” wins the competition for most hyped book this spring. Everywhere I look there are lists including it as most looked forward to, rave reviews, or options to get your hands on it early. So props to the marketing team for getting this one out there. However, as has become a bit of a habit for me with much-hyped books, I had some mixed feelings on this one. Mixed though! I did enjoy this more than “The Cruel Prince” which was my last big letdown from the hype machine.

Most of the things I enjoyed in this story were also directly tied to aspects that I did not. Unlike other books, the problems I had with this story weren’t connected as much to the actual characterizations we’re given or the overall story. Both were mostly strong. But there are writing choices throughout the story that frankly sabotaged the good efforts made elsewhere.

For example, to start out. Both Rielle and Eliana are strong enough characters on their own. They live in very different worlds, and while some of their struggles are similar (trying to find their place in the world & hiding/fighting against perceptions that might set others against them and those they love), they are distinct in their own right. They each have a unique voice, always an important element in shared POV books. I personally found myself a bit more drawn to Eliana. Her story has a bit more mystery (for reasons we’ll discuss later), and as a character, I enjoyed her more morally grey worldview. However, I didn’t dislike Rielle either.

The other side of this coin, though, is the fact that both of these characters feel cut off at the knees by the alternating POVs. It’s not even a complicated problem: each POV is simply too short. The reader is being constantly bounced back and forth between each girl’s story, that one can never really settle into either character or plotline. This results in me kind of just not caring, when all is said and done. Readers need a chance to settle into a character, to really come into their world and understand their motivations and challenges. But when we’re constantly bounced back and forth between two very different stories every few pages, there is never a chance to really get that moment where you become invested. It was a fine read, but it was just that, a read. I never felt like I was really in this world. I was always just reading about it.

This problem extends to the world-building. There’s a lot that needs to happen on this front for a story that is going to try to present two very different worlds, thousands of years apart. The author essentially has to do twice the world-building to successfully pull it off. But, again, because of the quick switches between one character and the other, I never felt like I had a clear understanding of either of these worlds. There are angels in one? But the details are foggy. The other world has a empire that is set on taking over the world, but why and how? These details are all interesting on their own, but it ultimately felt like the author had bit off more than she could chew. Or, at the very least, more than could be reasonably fit in one novel that also has a lot of other things going on.

The action was fun. There is no denying that this book moves, and it was this that got me through some of the failings in my full connection to either character or the world itself. What’s more, I enjoyed that the action was very different between each girl’s storylines. Rielle’s ongoing magical trials were exciting and fast-moving. Whereas Eliana’s were caught up in politics and the violent nature of what the world has become under this ambitious empire. But, again, this same fast-moving action was also part of the reason the world-building and character development felt stunted. There simply weren’t enough pages to fit in all of this action while also developing two fully-realized characters and two fully expanded worlds.

I did  also have one major criticism of this book. I read a good article recently that questioned whether a prologue is ever necessary for a book. The author of the essay mentioned that very talented authors could pull them off (like J.K. Rowling and her prologue in the first Harry Potter book), but even then, did you need them? This book serves as a perfect example where, for me, the prologue actively damaged my perception of the story right off the bat. It’s not long, but in even those few pages, the author managed to spoil almost every single reveal that was to come throughout the rest of the book. I already new the secrets that plagued some of our characters, thus making their confusion and ultimate surprise incredibly uninteresting to read about.

Further, I feel like this prologue was meant to inspire curiosity about how one character ended up where she did. But instead, I felt spoiled for her entire plot and thus her chapters held very little interest. There was no real threat behind any of the things she confronted because I knew where she ended up. If I hadn’t already been losing interest in characters because of the quick jumps back and forth due to the POV switches, this prologue alone did enough to pretty much kill off my interest and curiosity in at least one of these two.

All of that said, there book is still a fairly strong outing in a new fantasy world. There isn’t a lack of action or story, and the characters are interesting on their own. The problems I had were all down to stylistic choices (too short of chapters between switches, an uneven balance between action and world-building, and an unnecessary and ultimately harmful prologue). I’ll probably still stick around to read the next books in the series, however.

Want to judge for yourself? Get your hands on an ARC of “Furyborn” before it comes out! Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends May 10, 2018.

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: Had some good things going for it, but the author made a few writing choices that seemed to shoot the book in the foot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Furyborn” is an upcoming title, but it it is included on this Goodreads list: “Badass YA Heroines.”

Find “Furyborn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Queen of the Tearling”

22864842Book: “The Queen of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

Publishing Info: Harper, July 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Review: I know, I know. How have I not read this one already? But I’ve been burned by the hype machine before, so sometimes I just like to, you know, wait and see. And, also, I have a massive TBR list and some these slip on through! But while I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I was in the bookstore (cuz obviously this is what one does when one is on vacation: check out the Barnes and Noble in THIS new town!!). And while I was browsing I ran across this book and was like “why the heck not?” So here we are.

Kelsea has lived a remote life, kept away from all of society and trained up by a reclusive couple. But the day has come when all of that changes, and Kelsea must set out with stranger to reclaim her throne. But while she knows her goal, she doesn’t know the secrets of the past, her own or that of her kingdom’s. Now, not knowing who to trust, Kelsea must set a new course for herself and her kingdom.

So let’s just get it out there. I had very mixed feelings about this book. It started out, I was loving it. Then there were a couple of characterization bits that I hated with a passion. Then more story, liked that. Then BAM! Oops, didn’t know what was really going on the entire time, so dislike that. It was all over the place, really.

It’s hard even to say things that I liked because while I liked parts of them, there were other parts I very much didn’t like. But let’s start with the plot. I loved the beginning of this book and the mysteries that were set up for Kelsea. The logic behind why so much was kept from her never quite sat right, but as it wasn’t a new conceit, I was happy enough going with it (just don’t think too hard about how “prepared” someone could be if they’ve never even interacted with anyone but the couple who raised them..).

The writing was solid, and I, personally, can enjoy a slower moving plot, which this definitely was. Much of this book was essentially a travelogue, but I was all there for it. Give me an epic quest book any day of the week!

Kelsea herself was also a sympathetic character. Until she wasn’t. I really don’t understand why we keep getting characters like this, who have very unhealthy ideas about beauty standards. Here, Kelsea makes the terrible comment about the only thing worse than being ugly (Kelsea of course doesn’t think she is beautiful at all) is being ugly and thinking you’re beautiful. Cuz yes, how dare you have good self-esteem if you’re not conventionally beautiful! It was terrible. But again, this was one particularly bad moment within an entire book. Much of the rest of the time, I found Kelsea to be a compelling and interesting heroine.

The world building was where things got batty. For a good chunk of this book, the world is presented as a fairly standard other-world, Medieval Age, fantasy novel, of the type we’re all familiar with. But nope! Out of nowhere comes the reveal that this is actually some type of dystonian world set in the future after things went really wrong? This seems like it could be a cool idea on paper, but in reality, it kind of just pissed me off. For one, I didn’t like being caught by surprise by it. It wasn’t the type of reveal that added to the story, but instead made me start questioning all of the things I had been completely on board with before it happened. Now suddenly that Medieval Age type setting seems kind of dumb and how the heck would that even happen? Maybe if the author had introduced this concept at the beginning of the story, it would have been less jarring. But, for me, I didn’t appreciate the bait and switch of it all and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I did enjoy the villain, and again, much of the story of Kelsea’s travels. But, as I said, I had some fairly big problems, too: the fixation on beauty (whether one has it or not, whether it leads to rape, etc) and, ultimately, the world-building itself after the reveal that this is in some future time. I’m betting that people’s appreciation of this book must have lived and died on how that switch was received. Given the general popularity of this book, I must be in the minority in finding it jarring. But I know that people love this book, so I’m looking to re-home my book with a giveaway! The giveaway is open to US residents only  and ends May 1.

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: Had some really good stuff going for it, but burned me a few too many times with weird character beats and an unappreciated bait and switch with the world itself.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Queen of the Tearling” is on these Goodreads lists: “NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance” and “Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.”

Find “The Queen of the Tearling” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Truth Beneath the Lies”

28533271Book: “The Truth Beneath the Lies” by Amanda Searcy

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fight or Flight. 

All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving. 

All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life. 

But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

Review: You may remember that I put this book on my Highlights list for December of 2017, perhaps a gamble to do since teen thrillers/mysteries can be so dicey sometimes. I feel like I either really enjoy them, or find them too cliche or unbelievable. I didn’t really know what to expect from “The Truth Beneath The Lies”, as this is Amanda Searcy’s debut novel and the description was vague as vague can be. But I decided to take a page from ABBA and took a chance on it. And I’m not totally sure if it paid off.

It took me a little time to really get into this book. The first problem was that I had to keep reminding myself which girl was Betsy and which girl was Kayla. As you will find in a fair number of mysteries and thrillers these days, “The Truth Beneath The Lies” has a unique storytelling hook (in this case, two distinct narratives that seem separate but will eventually come together to tell a larger story), and a premise and set up that initially provide more questions than answers (and since I feel that this story definitely needs a lack of answers and clarity to be effective, I’m going to try and be, like the description, as vague as possible). The problem, however, was that Kayla and Betsy had so many interchangeable elements to their stories that I really had a hard time at first with keeping them straight. I can’t tell you how many times I had to say ‘okay, which one is this, who has the burner phone and who is working at a grocery store?’ and then look at the book description again. Of the two narratives I was more taken in by Kayla’s story (and even now I had to go back and remind myself who was who), as her frustrating existence made it so her motivations and choices were clearer. While Betsy’s situation was secretive for a reason, it still made it so I was irritated with just how much we were reminded that she was in danger, without explaining why. It all makes sense, but even though it does I still found myself more frustrated than intrigued.

The big twist wasn’t too hard for me to guess either. If you know what to look for and have the ins and outs of the genre in it’s present form down cold, you will probably be able to piece it together at the same rate that I did. And while that certainly isn’t to say that everyone will, or that they will be unimpressed with it, it did take away from my personal experience of reading this. Again, I’m going to remain a bit mum on what I mean by this, because I think that this is potentially worth reading if you aren’t as old hat and cynical as I am. But also figuring out the whole puzzle early on made me question whether or not how Searcy laid the clues out, and even in how she frames major parts of this story, treaded more towards deceit rather than deception. If you read this you will understand what I mean when I say that.

But I will say that ultimately, when all was said and done, I was entertained by this book. Once the cat was out of the bag plot wise, I did want to see how things turned out for our characters, and the consequences that were going to fall upon them all. So in the end it’s not like I regret reading this book, it was just that it didn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to thrillers, or even YA thrillers. It was perfectly acceptable, but the problem is that with thrillers with twists and turns it’s more fun to be thrilled.

Rating 6: An entertaining thriller, but the twists were a bit predictable while some of the hints treaded more towards deceit than deception.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Truth Beneath the Lies” isn’t on many relevant (or even correct… superheros?) Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Books of Secrets”.

Find “The Truth Beneath the Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields”

28109909Book: “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, Babs Tarr (Ill.), Rob Hayes (Ill.), Eleonora Carlini (Ill.), Moritat (Ill.), and Ming Doyle (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Batgirl’s about to lose the greatest weapon in her arsenal…because her mind is failing her! Are her ragtag group of allies ready to pick up the slack? And while Batgirl is down, it’s Black Canary to the rescue to discover the identity of a malevolent mastermind menacing Burnside!

Review: The reboot of Batgirl that happened during The New 52 tweaked the Barbara Gordon that had less dark doom and gloom angst, and more intrepid spunky quirkiness. But when Rebirth was announced, that meant that this reboot, too, was coming to an end, and that the character was going to move on. So now I come to the end of Batgirl’s time in the New 52, with “Batgirl: Mindfields”.

I liked the emphasis on team work and female friendship in this collection, as Barbara has to bring more excellent ladies to her team as her mind starts playing tricks on her, all because of a super villain named Fugue. She starts having memories that may or may not be real, and Frankie, Black Canary, and newcomers Spoiler and Bluebird make it their mission to help Barbara figure out who the mysterious Fugue is. I am always going to be happy to see Dinah Lance pop up, and while it took me a little while to get on board with Spoiler and Bluebird I eventually found them to be fun superheroes that I would like to see more of down the line. But the supporting character that really gets time to shine in this arc is Frankie, Barbara’s techie roommate who brings not only a great new character to the scene, but also some always welcome diversity. It was fun seeing her start out as a roommate and friend, and watching her turn into a much appreciated and needed ally. Frankie and Babs have a realistic and imperfect friendship, but they always have each other’s backs and will always be there for each other.

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Just look at the power of friendship! (source)

But even though I liked those aspects of this collection, I will admit that for me this was the weakest of the series. While it had some interesting elements of gaslighting and memory manipulation, I found myself barely invested in the Fugue storyline, and was kind of disappointed that ultimately, Batgirl herself had very little to do. Yes, I do like the power of female friendship, and yes, I liked the ladies that Barbara has brought into circle of friends and allies, but as I read it I felt that Batgirl herself had the smallest role yet in a series that is supposed to be about her at the forefront. Had this reboot of Batgirl gone on for more than three issues I probably would have been just fine with the spotlight being shared as much as it was. But this was basically a third of the Batgirl of Burnside series that didn’t feel like a Batgirl story, but a Birds of Prey story (don’t worry, I will be going back to that series soon!). It also felt like Stewart and Fletcher were trying to make a very special finale by bringing back almost all of the antagonists that we saw through the run, to end in a Battle Royale of them vs Batgirl’s Team. But it didn’t feel as satisfying as it could have specifically because a few of them were fighting superheroines that they wouldn’t have any beef with! What is the pay off of having Yuki and Yuri, the cosplaying villains from earlier in the series, fighting with SPOILER, who just showed up? That isn’t satisfying to me, it feels like padding out the plot.

Also, we barely saw any Luke Fox in this. If you are going to make a huge thing of Barbara choosing Luke over Dick Grayson (I’m still a bit sore about that. I really like Luke and he and Barbara are perfectly fine together, but Babs and Dick is one of my OTPs in the DC Universe), you had better make her relationship with Luke something more than a couple of after thought moments that feel more like ‘oh yeah she’s with Luke, they should probably hang out’. I’m not saying that Batgirl needs a man, nor that a relationship with a man should be a HUGE component to this arc, but why the whole song and dance of her picking him if it’s just left off page?

I think that the ultimate weakness of the Batgirl of Burnside arc was that it was trying a bit too hard to be DC’s answer to “Ms. Marvel” when it should have been trying to be it’s own thing. “Ms. Marvel” works because Kamala Khan was a brand new character that had room to grow and evolve without any expectations or constraints on her, so she could be the spunky young adult with relatable personal problems while still feeling genuine. When you try to apply this model to Barbara Gordon, who has been through so much already, it might feel a little odd to see her fighting manic cosplayers or taking selfies for social media clicks. I do like that DC is trying to reach out to new audience members, and I think that Batgirl is a great way to do that. But I also think that sometimes they tried to make her something that she wasn’t, and it therefore rang false.

I am glad that Barbara got to go beyond the angst and live her life a little lighter. As “Batgirl: Mindfields” wraps up her time in Burnside, I am very interested to see what she gets to do on her own in the Rebirth Arc. I was ultimately satisfied with the series as a whole, and hope that an even better iteration can be created now that a more fun loving Batgirl has been introduced to us.

Rating 6: The weakest of the “Batgirl” series by Stewart and Fletcher, but a fitting and satisfying end before it transitions to the “Rebirth” storylines.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Ladies of DC”, and “Best of Batgirl”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.3): Mindfields” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: 

Serena’s Review: “Snow City”

34300359Book: “Snow City” by G.A. Kathryns

Publishing Info: Sycamore Sky Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Her name is Echo Japonica, and she lives in Snow City. But she was not always Echo, and she did not always live in Snow City. Somewhere else, she was someone else, and it was to Snow City that she fled in order to escape a place and a self that had at last become intolerable.
For Snow City is a dream — Echo’s dream — of a better place, an idealized place, a place of both anonymity and fulfillment. It is, for Echo, a haven of peace, a refuge, a sanctuary.
But Snow City remains, nonetheless, a dream, and dreams, being such fragile things, can so easily shade into nightmare…

Review: I hadn’t heard of this book until I was contacted by the publisher about reviewing it here on the blog. But given the general whimsy of the description, especially the focus on dreams, it sounded like a read that I’d quite enjoy! And, for the most part, I did!

Echo Japonica is enjoying her life. It’s quiet, peaceful, full of music as she play she guitar five days a week at a local coffee shop. She lives in Snow City, a place of her own imaginings, and one free of the violence and conflict that plagued the world she escaped from. Her memories only travel back the few months that she has been living in this conflict-free environment. Things change, however, when she runs into Charity, and discovers that she is a ghost, and now is lost and alone in the seeming utopia that is Snow City. After taking the  young girl in, Echo begins to see changes in her peaceful city, a darkness seeping up and threatening to overtake the life she’s been building for herself and now Charity.

I was very intrigued by entire concept of this story. Echo has created her own world, and thus everything in it is a direct response to what she struggled with in “reality.” But even if it is her own created world, the story takes quite the turn when she is forced to realize that even here she cannot control the actions of others nor should she take responsibility for their own choices. Echo’s journey is not only one of self-acceptance, coming to grips with her own influence, or that thereof, on others, but also on creating healthy relationships and boundaries with those around her. Those who may seem to easily fit on one box may surprise you. And those you care about may do things that you wouldn’t necessarily do yourself, potentially to their own detriment. I also enjoyed the relationship that was built up between Echo and Charity. It was a sweet mother/daughter bond that highlights the unique strengths of chosen families.

I was, however, a bit put off my the style of writing. For one thing, while I appreciate lyrical and poetic writing in some instances, books that are focused too much on the philosophical aspects of life, are never really my cup of tea. Further, Echo’s way of speaking was pretty off-putting. She is written to speak in a manner similar to characters set in a Jane Austen novel. And, while I love me a good Jane Austen novel and this manner of writing in that context, I found the juxtaposition very distracting in this book. I could never quite pin down a good answer for why they were speaking this way, especially when it seems that her prior life was lived in the modern time. Frankly, it felt a little gimicky to me, and I feel like I would have enjoyed the book more had it been written using modern language.

I also had mixed feelings about the exploration of music in this book. This is completely and utterly a personal preference, however. Again, this simply isn’t my favorite topic to read about in a fantasy novel, but I completely understand that this may be much more appealing to other readers who find this aspects more appealing.

In the end, however, I still enjoyed this book for the most part. It had a strong through-line of redemption, survival, and hope. aEspecially for readers looking for books that range further on the “speculative” side of fantasy fiction, I think “Snow City” has a lot to offer and is well worth checking out!

Rating 6: A solid and unique concept that is used as a support frame to explore bigger topics such as family and self-acceptance. The style of writing, however, wasn’t for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Snow City” is a lesser know title, so isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Music in Fantasy Fiction.”