Serena’s Review: “A Countess Below Stairs”

714569 Book:“A Countess Below Stairs” by Eva Ibbotson

Publishing Info: Speak, May 1981

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

Book Description: After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.

Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée…

Review: I am on a bit of a historical fiction kick currently, it seems. And this story, with its mixture of “Downton Abbey” themes and motifs combined with a main character who survived the Russian revolution, sounded just about perfect right now. While there were definite strengths and weaknesses of this story, I ultimately very much enjoyed it.

Anna, whose family lead an idealic life in the Russian aristocracy before the revolution overcome their country, has now fled to England with the remaining members of her family, and is broke and facing a new life for which she is completely unprepared. Luckily, she finds a place as a housemaid in the household of the Earl of Westerholme. I say “luckily” because, while the book description leads readers to believe that Anna struggles with this transition, she manages to find herself in one of the best households one could imagine. Her co-workers are hardworking and, while initially very skeptical of her clearly inexperienced background (though they only think she is untrained, unaware of her high born status), they are supportive and recognize her hard work and effort. And the family all end up loving her immediately as well, even the family dog!

This speaks to one of my largest criticisms of the book. Reading the book description, I was looking forward to a story about struggle, hope, and the ability to overcome the tough hand life had dealt Anna. But ultimately? She seemed to glide through it all with barely a misstep! Her childhood, before the revolution, is described in rosy hues and she’s pretty much the perfect child, notably never spoiled, always humble and cheerful. And then, thrown into a position as a maid, she seems to adjust instantly and everyone love her! The dog, the eccentric uncle (they bond over classical music), the senile mother of the butler (Anna gives her something to do!), Ollie, the young neighbor girl who struggles with her health (Anna never makes her feel like an outsider!). Anna was bit of a “special snowflake,” I guess is what I’m saying.

While this aspect of her characterization was a bit much, there were also very funny bits. For example, to learn to be a housemaid, Anna reads a 3 volume tome about the do’s and don’ts of service and is eternally quoting it at the other workers, much to their chagrin. She also curtsies elaborately to everyone, like so:

tumblr_m59hugea111qlgcyro1_500
I was pretty much picturing “Anastasia”throughout this whole book…(source)

Ultimately, it was the villain character that made this book so fun. I found myself wanting to rush through the story just to get to the parts where Rupert would realize how completely terrible his fiancee really was. And she’s not villainized in the typical way (I was concerned that this was going to be a bit of a “evil for being popular” trope). Instead, Muriel has a keen interest in eugenics and “perfecting” the human race. So, you can guess where that was going! She was delightfully horrible.

My second criticism of the book was the ending and how it was resolved. Rupert is a rather bland leading man, and I was waiting for him to actually make some choices and stand up for his family and household whom he had exposed to the workings of his cruel fiancee. Instead, things are wrapped up in a way that seemed a bit out of left field, and by periphery characters. I feel that this could have been handled a bit better.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and very much enjoyed the narrator. She had a very “Dowager Countess of Grantham” type style which was lovely. The quality of the recording was a bit lacking, but I generally enjoyed it.

If you want a short, sweet historical story and can tolerate a bit of a “Mary Sue” type leading lady, definitely check this book out! Like I said, the villain is lovely to hate.

Rating 6: Solid story with a unique addition of the Russian revolution, but the leading lady was a bit too perfect and the ending a bit too much of an “easy out.”

Reader’s Advisory:

Serena’s Review: “The Rose and the Dagger”

23308084Book: “The Rose and the Dagger” by Renee Andieh

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

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

Review: I picked up this book right on the heels of finishing the first, and while I enjoyed the first one for the most part, I was almost more intrigued by this sequel because it wouldn’t be that. The “retelling” of “A Thousand and One Nights” had been thoroughly wrapped up in the first book, so endless opportunities were spread before this one. And the cliffhanger left some good room for growth. For the most part, I think this succeeds, though it does get bogged down by the trappings of the first book.

Originality played highly in this book’s favor. Freed from the original trappings of serving as a retelling, the author had room to take world-building and character growth in her own directions, and for me, this really succeeded. While before the story was trapped largely within the confines of the palace in Rey, here Shazi has been released on the greater world and new and exciting destinations come with it. And alongside these fantastical new settings, adventures followed.

In fact, I would classify this book as an adventure story, first and foremost. Its predecessor was largely a romance, and the hints of a love triangle made me nervous for this book’s direction. Gladly, these worries were unnecessary. The romance served as motivation and fuel to the fire of Shazi’s attempts to end the curse, but it is a matured romance that is steady and sure of itself. No needless wavering or second-guessing.

I also really enjoyed the nods to Aladdin in this book. The scenes with the magic carpet were beautiful and obviously made me want one for myself. And the inclusion of a genie-like character was inspired, most especially given the well-rounded characterization that is applied in the relatively short amount of page time that is devoted to the character.

There were a few downsides, however. While I enjoyed the increased time that was spent from Shazi’s sister’s perspective, there was also a rushed romance here that felt unnecessary. Irsa’s journey was one of self-discovery. As a character who had spent a life time comparing herself unfavorably to her fire-y and strong sister, Irsa’s path to self-acceptance and appreciation for her own unique talents was one that I believe would speak to many readers. No need to add in the distraction of a burgeoning love. It felt like this was inserted purely to compensate for the fact that Shazi and Khalid’s own love story was past the “discovery” phase, and the author worried that more romance was needed. Unfortunately, I feel that this addition was a disservice to both Shazi’s and Irsa’s story. It was refreshing to read a series where the primary romance progressed in a normal manner, from new love to steady love, and the addition of a love interest to Irsa’s own tale distracted from the more interesting story of personal growth.

The other small niggle I had with this book was the inclusion of stories-within-stories. I listed this as part of the reason I enjoyed the first book, and given the fact that its a retelling of “A Thousand and One Nights,” it plays a large and natural role within the narrative. That’s all well and good. Unfortunately, this book isn’t that. The adventure and more action-packed nature of the story doesn’t serve as a natural vehicle for the insertion of shorter tales. While I understand that the author was attempting to highlight the importance of story-telling and reinforce what made Shazi so special to begin with, the addition of a few of these tales were more distracting than anything else. I wish the author had felt more comfortable letting her previous work stand for itself and allowed this book to be its own thing as well.

Overall, however, this book was a solid conclusion to the series. Characterization, over all plot progression, and the new additions to the story all served to fully round out the duology. For fans of retellings, or readers looking for a fantasy story set in a non-European setting, I highly recommend this book and series!

Rating 6: A solid conclusion, if a little undermined by trying to be too similar to the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

 

 

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Untold”

15801763Book: “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

Spoilers for “Unspoken!”

Review: “Untold” picks up directly after the events that unfolded in “Unspoken.” The Lynburn family is in the midst of a civil war and the small town of Sorry-in-the-Vale is caught in the middle. Unwilling to simply sit on the sidelines while the fate of her town is decided without her, Kami gathers her friends and begins her own preparations. All while balancing her new, uncomfortable, un-linked relationship with Jared Lynburn. “Unspoken” ended with a bang, and between the now open secret that is the sorceror infestation in the town, and Kami and Jared’s evolving relationship from source/sorceror to…who knows what, there was a lot of material to work with. And sadly, I feel like most of that material was dropped in favor of witty dialogue.

This may be an example of an author’s strengths playing against her. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this story, too, was peppered with snappy and fun language. However, unlike the first book, the stakes are much higher from the very beginning of this story. There is much less room in the natural evolution of the plot for characters to all stand around chatting like they’re in an episode of “Gilmore Girls.” So to create these situations, the author had to put the brakes on her story and create relationship drama, all to a largely disappointing effect.

Unfortunately, that relationship drama manifests itself not only in the upping of the love triangle potential seen in the first book, but also in creating a tangent storyline for Holly who is dealing with her confusing feelings after being kissed by Angela. The love triangle is doomed from the very beginning. Aside from my feeling that it is impossible to write a realistic love triangle, this one is made all the more silly from bizarre situations like “oops, it was dark and I kissed the wrong boy!” to the classic misunderstandings that are only possible due to incredible amounts of plot acrobatics. And then when they “suddenly” realize things…

p.txt

And as for the drama regarding Holly, I have mixed feelings about this. In some ways, it was a great exploration of burgeoning awareness of a character’s more complicated sexuality, and there were some great moments where this topic was explored from a variety of perspectives. But at other times, it was used as yet another “misunderstanding” plot wedge between Kami and Jared, which just undervalued most of the work that had been done up to this point. Suddenly, Holly’s exploration of herself and her feelings for others was just one more crinkle in the main straight couple’s issues. That frustration aside, I don’t want to end this paragraph on a completely negative point, since I do still really appreciate the diversity that is the cast of characters in this book.

Another of the strengths of the first book was its inclusion of Kami’s family members as active, important people in her life (none of the “invisi-parent” that is so often found in YA). And in this aspect, “Untold” goes even further. Kami’s whole family is affected by this sorcerer war, having been connected to the Lynburn family for years in some mysterious way. Her father and mother struggle to reconcile their reactions to this changing worldview, and her brothers, Tomo and Ten, may be caught up in the struggle as well. Throughout the story, Kami’s thoughts are never far from her family, and it is clear that she loves them deeply and that they are at the forefront of her mind when she plans her resistance against Rob Lynburn. This was a refreshing inclusion.

So, while I did still enjoy “Untold,” I also feel that it succumbed to “second novel syndrome.” The author had to put the brakes on her own story so as to leave material for the third and final installment. And to do that, a lot of relationship nonsense was added. But, while disappointing, I’m still invested enough to want to read the final book, so that will be making its way onto my reading list.

Rating 6: A step down from the first book, but still enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Untold” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diversity in Young Adult and Middle Grade” and “Gothic Romance.”

Find “Untold” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous review: “Unspoken”

Kate’s Review: “Daddy Dearest”

28223107Book: “Daddy Dearest” by Paul Southern

Publishing Info: Self Published. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, June 2016.

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a free ARC edition of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description from Goodreads: An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her – with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.

Review: I thought I had this book all figured out when I read the description. What is it that Han Solo says? “Don’t get cocky”? I got cocky. I never should have assumed that I knew everything going into this book, because it ended up making me feel very sheepish indeed. I went in with preconceived notions, and “Daddy Dearest” proved me wrong. I like being proved wrong, folks, especially if it works out in my favor, ultimately. I think that part of it is that I’ve read so many thrillers as of late that have big crazy outlandish twists, I am always on the lookout for curves and swerves, and while “Daddy Dearest” does have some twists and turns, I didn’t guess any of them. So BRA-VO, Paul Southern.

I feel that while I would like to keep some of the major plot points tucked away, there are themes that I want to address in this review that could be seen as spoiler-y. So fair warning.

At it’s heart, “Daddy Dearest” is a character study of a man who is grappling with a lot of stress and problems in his personal life. Our unnamed narrator and his unnamed daughter have a pretty decent relationship, one that seemed fairly realistic given the circumstances. He’s divorced from her mother, she only seems him every once in awhile, and he is clearly quite terrified of losing her. While this manifests in a fear of her getting caught in an elevator (or lift in the book, as it takes place in the U.K.), the fear is far broader than that. When she disappears behind those doors, it makes all of his fears a reality, as it seems that she has disappeared from his life without any way to get her back. Our Narrator is an interesting conundrum in and of himself, as while he loves his (also unnamed) daughter very much it becomes clear from early on that he does not like, or at least respect, women as a whole. I honestly had a hard time with some of the ways that he would describe women in this book, and how he would interact with them as well. It took some time to peel back the layers of our narrator, and the more we peeled back the more disturbing he became. At first, when I went in thinking that Our Narrator was going to be a heroic type trying to save his daughter from some unknown threat, I thought that the writing was very sexist and was having a hard time with it. As I kept going, however, it slowly became apparent that all was not as it seemed, and I have to say that it was achieved in a clever and satisfying way. I can’t say that I liked Our Narrator, but I was very invested in how things shook out for him and his missing daughter.

Sometimes when I was reading it I would get tripped up over some of the phrasing. While the story itself was pretty well done and kept me interested, there were times that the writing felt a little choppy or awkward. There were a number of times that I would get hung up on a sentence because of the language that was chosen to convey it. It doesn’t break the book, but it did take me out of the story whenever it did happen. I usually saw what their effect was supposed to be, but mostly they just didn’t quite bring me to where they were meant to. There were also a couple of tangential moves in the story that were a little bit confusing for me, and even after trying to go back and discern what had happened, I was still left scratching my head. I also did, ultimately, have a hard time wrapping my head around the women characters in this book. I know that we were seeing them through the eyes of Our Narrator, who has a lot of contempt for women in general, but I had a hard time understanding the motivations of those who were present, at least when it came to having a relationship with him. This was the most apparent with Our Narrator’s ex-wife. Sure, we know that she got out of the marriage, but I never really understood why she got in it in the first place. I should mention that it’s a first person narrator who is unreliable at best, so this could be me nit picking, but I wanted to see some idea as to why she would have had associated with this man, much less had a child with him!

I was pleasantly surprised by “Daddy Dearest”. I think that if you are a fan of thrillers and can overlook some fumbling writing quirks, this may be one to check out. It definitely left me guessing, which is really what one wants in a book like this.

Rating 6: Though the writing is a bit clunky at times and some of the characters a little flat, the plot is well paced and did keep me guessing. A solid mystery with some good twists.

Reader’s Advisory:

As of this writing “Daddy Dearest” is not on any lists on Goodreads. However, I think that you will find similar stories on “Popular Unreliable Narrator Books”, and “Popular Missing Persons Books”.

Though “Daddy Dearest” is not available on WorldCat as of this writing, you can find it on Amazon and Smashwords on June 1st.

Serena’s Review: “Flamecaster”

Flamecaster Book: “Flamecaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. The son of the queen of the Fells, Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

Review: I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Chima’s “Seven Realms” series, so I was very excited to hear that she was returning to that world for a second go with a new cast of characters from the next generation. From past experience, series that are set in the same world, but later in time, can be very hit or miss. It’s hard to not want to spend time with the characters I am already familiar with and the jump in time can come with some nasty surprises. While I enjoyed “Flamecaster,” I did fall prey to this type of disappointment when comparing it to the last story and featured characters.

Right off the bat, I was reminded why I enjoyed the first set of books. Chima’s world building is solid, and it was very easy to slip back into this time, place, and culture even with the years that have passed since I finished the last book. Much of this book is set in the kingdom of Arden, now ruled by the tyrant King that Raina, the Wolf Queen of the Fells and one of the main characters from the first series, refused to marry 25 years ago. Things have not improved since. He’s still busy rounding up, burning or collaring the magic users of his kingdom while conducting  a long, drawn out war with the Fells. It hasn’t been going well, but he is anything if not persistent.

Here enters Jenna, a coal miner, orphan, and rebel with a personal vendetta against the King. Unfortunately, rebel!Jenna is the most interesting part of her character and we get very little of that in this book. Her secret and forgotten past play a large part in driving this story, but we only get a few tidbits of answers towards the end of the story. And in the meantime, she is largely a pawn stored away in a dungeon through significant chunks of the book. For a character with mysterious abilities and a penchant for blowing things up, I wish we had gotten more from her.

Ash, the other main character mentioned in the description, is the son of Raina and Han, our protagonists from the first series. His story starts off with the type of tragic happenings that I always dread from next-generation-stories. But as a character, he was fairly enjoyable. His magic and personality are distinctly different than his father’s, which is important in a character who could have easily read as Han 2.0. We spend more time with Ash and that alone makes his story line more enjoyable than Jenna’s. Though, here too, I didn’t feel like he was as fully fleshed out as either Raina or Han were from the first series.

What wasn’t mentioned in the book description and what surprised me as I read is the fact that Jenna and Ash are not the only protagonists of this book. Lo and behold, there are two other characters whose perspectives are given a decent amount of page time: smuggler and quick witted, Lila, and Destin, a mage and spymaster working for the King of Arden. Destin only has a very few chapters, so I don’t have much to say about him. He serves his purpose, but didn’t add a lot to the story, in my opinion. Lila, however, is by far my favorite character in the book. She is the most action-oriented, we see her weaving in between all of the other characters with ease and skill, and her personality reads the strongest on the page. In all honesty, while events at the end of this book make it clear why Jenna will be serious player in the future, I finished this story kind of wanting Lila to me our main female protagonist.

So, while I enjoyed aspects of this book, there were some disappointments as well. As I’ve highlighted a bit here, many of the main characters simply weren’t as engaging as I would have wanted. I remember that the first book in the “Seven Realms” series also seemed a bit lackluster only to vastly improve with the three following books, so I’m hopeful that that will prove true with this series as well. However, while I love the addition of Lila, I’m concerned that balancing four perspectives and characters may ultimately weaken my attachment to each. I finished this book not really caring about Destin or Jenna, and mildly interested in Ash (and a lot of that interest still has to do with his connection to the characters from the previous book.) Still love Lila, though.

The other major detractor that has to be mentioned is a very, very unfortunate bout of instalove. If I was going to mention one thing that made the “Seven Realms” series stand out to me amongst the plethora of YA fantasy series, it would be the solid characterization and slow build of its main romantic pairing. Each book read as a solid step in Raina and Han’s relationship, from mere acquaintances who really know nothing of the truth about one another even at the end of the first book, to casually dating with the struggles that come with that, to a serious relationship by the end. And here, in this new series, we get one of the worst examples of an instalove relationship that I cam remember. And I’ve read a lot, so that’s saying something. Again, part of me hopes that there will be some explanation for the rush of this in the first book, perhaps they’re not meant to be together and things will get switched up (go Lila!)? I’m not sure. But if this relationship is supposed to read as a main fixture in the story, this was not a good start.

All in all, this wasn’t the strong return to this world that I was hoping for. However, there were enough elements to keep me reading, and my previous experience with the slow start of the other series leaves me hopeful that this will grow in much the same way.

Rating 6: Decent, but some of the characters were disappointing and the instalove was maddening.

Reader’s Advisory:

This book isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I would highly recommend reading the “Seven Realms” series by the same author. It isn’t necessary to appreciate this book, but I loved it and would recommend it simply for its own worth.

Find “Flamecaster” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre”

9044506

Book: “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” by Gail Simone, John Ostrander, Jim Califiore (Ill.), Peter Nguyen (Ill.), and Doug Hazlewood (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, December 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: John Ostrander, the co-creator of the SUICIDE SQUAD, teams with fan-favorite writer Gail Simone for this epic team-up between the SECRET SIX and the SUICIDE SQUAD. Amanda Waller and her Suicide Squad capture Deadshot to try to force him to rejoin their ranks, but his current teammates in the Secret Six don’t see that happening any time soon. As the two groups begin to go toe-to-toe, the Black Lanterns show up and force the teams to join forces and put aside their differences in order to defeat the heroes and villains that have risen from the dead.

Review: One of my bigger apprehensions about getting into a long series or comic arc is that the story lines will start to lose their sustainability. Sadly, this has started to happen for me and the Secret Six. The good news is that it is still a very strong comic, and I’m hoping that it just had a little hiccup. But I want to talk positives first. It was really neat to see Amanda Waller show up in this arc. For those who may not know (but many of you may know by summer’s end), Amanda Waller is a decidedly shaded grey character from the DC universe who is also in charge of The Suicide Squad. Since Deadshot has done time with them as well, she comes into the storyline in hopes of poaching him back. Of course, his current teammates have opinions on this, and they are not going to let him go without a fight (even if there is some infighting going on amongst the Six as well, what with Bane the self appointed new leader and replacing Scandal with Black Alice).

While it was fun seeing a cameo from The Suicide Squad (specifically Waller, a badass boss who knows what she wants and is super awesome), there was another cameo of sorts that, when combined with the OTHER cameo, made this story less about the Six and more about the DC Universe as a whole at the time of it’s writing. That is The Blackest Night arc, in which Black Lanterns (not Green nor Red) arrive on the scene and start resurrecting the dead, a huge problem when faced with a bunch of dead antagonists. I know this was one of those large spanning plots that DC likes to do from time to time, but seeing as I am not familiar with Green Lantern and his mythos, nor have I read Blackest Night in any form, I found myself more irritated that Secret Six got pulled into this whole thing than excited about the crossover. Maybe if I knew more about the Black Lanterns things would be different. But I’m not convinced.

I am also very done with the unnecessary drama of betrayal and mistrust. Can we go one arc without The Six having issues with each other in one form or another? I am legitimately frustrated that Bane and Scandal are on the outs as of now, because I just want this group to have a good dynamic. I do believe that villains can, in fact, have good partnerships, and if they were able to have good partnerships it would make these already very interesting and rewarding characters all the more interesting and rewarding. Instead we get a group of people who, yes, thus far have come together in dark times and crisis. But I feel like it’s building up for a break in the team, and I don’t want that because 1) it’s kind of an obvious drama play, and 2) I just want them all happy and cooperative, okay? There also wasn’t really a funny little side moment in this one, as the standalone story was about Deadshot and how bitter he is. Not a lot of belly laughs in that one, guys. And that was a serious detriment to the collection. I’m hoping that isn’t a sign of what is to come in the last three volumes…

I remain mostly optimistic about the Six, as we are getting back to the base plot and we may be seeing more of Amanda Waller along with our misfits. As of this writing I am still waiting for Volume 4 from the library, so there may be a gap before I can continue the adventures. Here’s hoping for more Jeanette, more Catman, and more unity!

Rating 6: While there is still strength and creativity, sidetracks to Blackest Night and some repetitive storytelling made this the weakest volume in the series thus far.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels for Adults and Young Adults” and “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”

Find “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”

Serena’s Review: “Doomsday Book”

Doomsday Book Book: “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

Publishing Info: Bantam Spectra, July 1992

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

Book Description from Goodreads: For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

Review: This book has been on my list for a long time. Connie Willis is regularly mentioned as one of the top women authors for science fiction, and “Doomsday Book” shows up on lots of “must-read” lists. So, when I spotted it as available when browsing my way through the library’s audiobooks a couple of weeks ago, it was as if the stars had aligned and it was finally, finally time for me to get to this one. And for the most part, it was ok? Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to all of my expectations.

For one, the story is told with alternating perspectives between Kivrin in the Middle Ages and her mentor, Dunworthy, in Oxford in 2054. My usual problem with this storytelling method was highlighted again here. One story almost inevitably is much stronger and more interesting than the other. While Dunworthy learns very quickly that something (he doesn’t know what) has gone wrong with Kivrin’s trip to the past and works to find answers while also handling a sudden mysterious disease crippling the city, there’s just no way for him to compete with Kivrin’s story, stranded in the past, with her carefully laid plans crumbling around her.

So, too, there were aspects of Dunworthy’s story that were incredibly frustrating as a reader. It’s hard to know whether, as a longtime reader of sci-fi/fantasy, I’m more familiar with the trail of clues laid out in these types of stories and can anticipate the final destination from long practice, or whether these clues have simply become more standard in the genre all together in the 20 plus years since this book was initially published. Either way, Dunworthy’s progress learning what had happened to Kivrin was so drawn out. At certain points in the story, the character would outright ask another character a basic question and then, bizarrely, the other character would change the subject or, what, pretend not to have heard him? It started to feel really contrived, and by about two thirds of the way through the book when he was still struggling to get basic answers to simple questions, I started doubting my ability to finish all together.

giphy1
Only, it was an audiobook, so there was no flipping, just sad, sad listening.

Unfortunately, this forced confusion carried over to Kivrin’s narrative as well. While the a large part of the story revolves around the incompetence of the current director who even allowed Kivrin’s trip to the Middle Ages (an era of time that had previously been rated a “10” on the “too dangerous to travel to” scale), Kivrin herself would at times come across as equally incompetent. I have to imagine that this was not intended.

Things go wrong for Kivrin from the beginning, and it becomes clear why time travel to this era was going to be a bad idea for a young woman traveling alone. Beyond the obvious factors, things that Dunworthy pointed out from the beginning in his effort to stop her from going, the fact that a woman in this time period has almost zero agency seems to be an obvious reason to avoid this. If everything had gone right, how was Kivrin, a young, unmarried woman, supposed escape the household she was in? Women didn’t go anywhere by themselves, let alone walk miles into the wilderness along strange roads! Kivrin’s struggles in this area seemed easy to anticipate. The book even discussed two-person drops in time, and I never felt like there was an adequate explanation for why things moved forward as they did. Like I said, a lot revolves around the new director being an idiot. But for something as important as time travel, it was a bit hard to swallow that a disaster like this could so easily happen due to one man’s ego and ignorance.

Here too, Kivrin’s confusion and inability to catch on to simple clues didn’t feel right for a character who was presented as supremely thorough in her preparation for this trip. She seems genuinely confused at one point to discover that a 13 -year-old girl is engaged to  a much older man, after many, many clues to this have already been lain out. This kind of bizarre storytelling was very distracting. I feel like Willis was trying to build tension in these choices, but all it did was make me question the sanity of her characters and wish things would just start happening already.

That said, Kivrin’s story was still a very interesting read. I would recommend this book for fans of history, however, rather than sci-fi fans. Time travel aside, the majority of the story is an intricate look at life in the Middle Ages. This is where Willis shines. Not only did the characters feel exactly right, highlighting the various challenges of people’s different roles, but the small details of the challenges of every day things were touched upon in a way that felt incredibly natural. What could have come across as a history lesson, instead felt like catching a glimpse into a beautiful painting of a small slice of time. But this glimpse is entirely honest, and with that honesty comes a lot of tragedy. This book was very hard to read towards the end, but I appreciate that Willis didn’t shy away from the realities of the world she brought Kivrin into.

All in all, there were parts of “Doomsday Book” that I really enjoyed, however, I also felt like the story could have used a heavy dosage of editing. It was’t a short story to begin with, and the continued delay of basic facts that readers could guess on their own, only made it feel longer. It was not a light read, but if you enjoy history and a richly detailed story, I would recommend “Doomsday Book.”

Rating 6: I enjoyed the historical aspects, but I also wanted to knock the characters’ heads together a few too many times to fully get behind it.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Doomsday Book” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Time Travel Fiction”  and “Books for a Pandemic.” 

Find “Doomsday Book” at your library using WorldCat!