Serena’s Review: “Torn”

35959724Book: “Torn” by Rowenna Miller

Publishing Info: Orbit, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Sophie is a dressmaker who has managed to open her own shop and lift herself and her brother, Kristos, out of poverty. Her reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly-embroidered charms for luck, love, and protection secures her a commission from the royal family itself — and the commission earns her the attentions of a dashing but entirely unattainable duke.

Meanwhile, Kristos rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement. Their worlds collide when the revolution’s shadow leader takes him hostage and demands that Sophie place a curse on the queen’s Midwinter costume — or Kristos will die at their hand.

As the proletariat uprising comes to a violent climax, Sophie is torn: between her brother and the community of her birth, and her lover and the life she’s striven to build.

Review: I love to cross-stitch, have loved it for years since I learned to stitch as a little girl. It’s also a handy hobby to support a very unhealthy Netflix binging habit. But it’s also a less common craft nowadays. I have a bunch of friends who knit, a couple of crocheters, but none of my friends embroider. So I was stoked when I saw this book coming this spring from Orbit. A fantasy novel where embroidery IS the magic? I immediately requested a copy and started reading when it arrived (though this then lead to mental confusion: should I READ about embroidery or actually DO my embroidery? Which will be more fun?!?!)

Sophie is a successful business woman, and in a land that is highly regulated with limited mobility for common folk, she is unique in her quick rise. But she possesses a special skill, the ability to sew charms into her elaborate garments. However, her clientele, the nobility of the city, put her in the awkward position of hovering between the wealthy aristocrats whom she serves and the poorer working class where she was born and still lives. Just as she begins to break into this upper class of clients (maybe even a dress commission for the princess and queen!), things begin to go sideways, starting with her brother, Kristos, who is leading a grassroots revolution. Tensions rise as Kristos and his ilk push against the restrictions of their current lives and Sophie tries to balance her ties to her brother, while also maintaining her relationship with her noble clients. But the situations is untenable, and eventually, something will fall…

I always love unique magic systems. There are far too many that simply say “and then magic!” But here, Miller has brilliantly mixed a subtle sort of magic in with a task that is often brushed aside as menial. It is a clever expansion on the “hedge witch” motif that so often appears in the background of other novels, women with barely understood abilities that they tie to the work of their gender, often in cooking and healing. It’s a clever way of taking a domestic task and imbuing it with power, all while acknowledging the value of the task itself, with or without magical elements. All along, Sophie’s success comes not only from her magical abilities, but from her acumen as a business woman and her sheer skill at constructing and predicting fashion.

Sophie also only has a limited understanding of how exactly her charms work, so as the book progresses, the reader gets to explore the inner workings and expanding possibilities of charms alongside her. But from the beginning, I enjoyed the small scenes of her sewing light into garments. It was such a peaceful, lovely image, especially for someone who sews herself.

Other than the magical elements, the majority of the story is devoted to the growing unrest between Kristos’s revolution and the nobility whom Sophie works with and befriends. Miller presents an excellent exploration of what it means to exist between the battle lines of a revolution such as this. When evaluating history, it’s too easy to slot everyone into one camp or the other, but to do so is to ignore what has to be the large number of individuals who just want to go about their lives, understanding the positions of both parties. Sophie has familial ties on one hand and a general sympathy to the plight of the less lucky commoner, but she also has faces to put to the nobility, and through her work with them, understands them to be individuals with their own worries and concerns. At its core, this is a story of the line where idealism meets pragmatism, and the truth of what revolt and revolution looks like for all involved.

The book isn’t perfect, however, and it was perhaps a bit long for my taste. The story begins to sag a bit towards the middle as Sophie struggles to find her role in this building conflict. It also focuses heavily on the ins and outs of her day-to-day life and work in the shop. I enjoyed many of these details, but it might be a struggle for others who are looking for a more action-packed story.

It also has a sweet romantic plot line. While I enjoyed Theodore, and thought that his and Sophie’s relationship was developed well, I also never became fully attached to it. I’m not sure why, really. I very much enjoyed Sophie as a character, but I think maybe Theodore was also a bit TOO perfect, which made him a bit less interesting. This is a minor quibble, however.

All in all, I really enjoyed “Torn.” It stands out as a unique in several ways, presenting a magical system built around a common, domestic task, as well as its close examination of what the middle ground could look like in the midst of a brewing revolution. For fans of classic fantasy, and those who are ok with a slower building read, definitely check out “Torn.”

Rating 7: Magical sewing and an introspective story of revolution make this a fun read, if a bit slower read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Torn” is a newer book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Crafty Magic.”

Find “Torn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “School for Psychics”

35297405Book: “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: An entrancing new series starring a funny, impulsive, and sometimes self-congratulatory young woman who discovers she has psychic abilities—and then must decide whether she will use her skills for good or…not.

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic.

When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

In class, Teddy befriends Lucas, a rebel without a cause who can start and manipulate fire; Jillian, a hipster who can mediate communication between animals and humans; and Molly, a hacker who can apprehend the emotional state of another individual. But just as Teddy feels like she’s found where she might belong, strange things begin to happen: break-ins, missing students, and more. It leads Teddy to accept a dangerous mission that will ultimately cause her to question everything—her teachers, her friends, her family, and even herself.

Set in a world very much like our own, School for Psychics is the first book in a stay-up-all night series.

Review: Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me an eARC of this book! It was a nice surprise to have in my email box, and I appreciate the generosity.

As I’ve established on this blog in previous posts in the past two years of it being a thing, I have certain weaknesses when it comes to my favorite fictional tropes. These include but are not limited to boarding school stories and psychic characters. So when I found out that “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer combined both of these things, I was immediately fascinated with where this book was going to go. We’ve seen books involving kids/teenagers that go to a boarding school to hone certain powers (Uh, “Harry Potter”, anyone?), but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this one involves young adults in their twenties and all the fun baggage that can go with it. And while I haven’t read nearly as much urban fantasy as Serena has, I’ve been meaning to try and get more into that subset of the overall genre. “School for Psychics” is definitely a good place to start for one as unfamiliar as I am.

The strongest aspect of “School for Psychics” is the psychic mythology and world building in and of itself. In fiction about psychic characters and systems you will often see a character having a litany of powers, from telekineses to ESP to seeing the dead. But one of the aspects of “School for Psychics” that really stood out to me was that each character has different psychic strengths that he or she has honed into their main talent. I can only think of one other story that decided to give different powers to different psychics, and that was Stephen King’s miniseries “Rose Red” (underrated AF, by the way). Teddy, our main character (who I’ll speak more in depth about later), kind of bucks this trend, but there are a slew of other characters who provide various types of psychic powers. These include Molly, an empath who can become overwhelmed by the feelings of those around her, Teddy’s roommate Jillian who can communicate with animals, and Pyro, who has (you guessed it) pyrokinetic skills that got him into trouble when he was on the police force. I also really like the concept of the U.S. Government having a vested interest in finding, training, and using psychics in espionage and various layers of the government and justice system. It’s a cynical trope that’s been done before, but hey, I’m not going to argue with it because it still works and feels relevant.

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Though if we go by “Firestarter”, things may not turn out the way Uncle Sam wants them to… (source)

I did have a harder time relating to Teddy, our protagonist within the story. She has some fairly standard and old hat facets to not only her personality, but also her background. She doesn’t know who her biological parents are, as she was orphaned as a baby and adopted by a loving couple. She has a troubled history and has a snarky attitude, but the reality of it is that she doesn’t like feeling vulnerable or letting anyone in lest they hurt her. She is super smart but has up until now been using her intelligence to only benefit herself. I mean, look at the description above: she’s literally ‘scrappy’ and atypical. Hell, she even finds herself in a, you guessed it, love triangle, sort of torn between the sexy (but shallow as of now) Pyro, and mysterious (and also her teacher) Nick. The good news is that this is a series, so I do have hope that Teddy is going to grow and evolve and become more three dimensional as it goes on. But as of right now, growth is something that she really needs to do, because she doesn’t stand out within a setting that has some serious promise. As of now the world building is outshining her, and I really hope that she catches up in book two.

“School for Psychics” was an entertaining read, and I do intend on picking up book two when it comes out. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long!

Rating 7: A decent urban fantasy with a promising premise, “School for Psychics” has some good mythology and potential, but has an (as of right now) fairly run of the mill protagonist who has room to grow.

Reader’s Advisory:

“School for Psychics” is not on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Boarding Schools, Camps, and Private Academies”, and  “Psychic/Paranormal”.

Find “School for Psychics” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Sky in the Deep”

34726469Book: “Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Review: I immediately requested this book when I strayed upon it on NetGalley. For one, I live in Minnesota, so it’s almost obligatory that I read any YA novel about Vikings. But that aside, the Viking things alone would be enough regardless of geography simply because it sounded like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love fairytales and royalty fantasy fiction as much as the next person, but there’s been A LOT of those published recently. But a young woman Viking? Sign me up!

Eelyn is a warrior. Her father is a warrior, her brother was a warrior, before dying tragically several years ago, and her entire society is built around a strict rotation of warring and preparing to war with their rival clan, the Riki. But, as the book description above states, things go very wrong when she catches sight of her should-be dead brother battling against her clan alongside a fellow Riki warrior. Now, captured, alone, and surrounded by the enemy, Eelyn struggles to understand a brother she no longer knows and a people who seemingly frighteningly similar to her own.

The first thing I loved about this book was the author’s willingness to live in the world she built. Unlike other books, *cough*”The Cruel Prince”*cough*, Eelyn is a warrior and we SEE her fight. She kills people, and she doesn’t make apologies for it. This is her world, so why would she question these ways? Again and again, even as the battle lines move and the enemies change, we see Eelyn’s skills and why she is respected as a fighter. Further, there is never any mention of her gender playing any role in things. For one thing, she’s by no means unique for being a female warrior. Her best friend fights alongside her, and they have a practiced, methodical way of moving across a battlefield that only comes through much repetition and trust. So, too, in the Riki camp, women are just as likely to take up an axe or sword as the men. It was refreshing how free of comment this book was on this premise.

The action scenes in particular stood out. They are sprinkled throughout the story, successfully picking back up the pace just when things were on the verge of becoming a bit slow. The battles were also given a good amount of page time, with many details about the use of the land in strategy and the actual fights taking place. I was all over this, but it does mean you have to be a fan of battle scenes and sword/axe fighting to enjoy this book.

The storyline itself was fairly predictable. We all know going in that it’s going to be a pretty tried and true version of a main character learning that those she’s always hated might not be all that bad and oh look, here’s a convenient OTHER that they can both band up with against and she will be the point of connection between them. However, for all of that, I feel like the story was managed well and saved from too much predictability by the honest and challenging inner struggles that Eelyn goes through, particularly with her feelings towards a brother who she mourned but now finds alive and well, living with her enemy.

Eelyn is not a perfect person, and it is her imperfections that save what could have been a pretty typical story. Her anger, resentment, and prejudices do not go quickly or easily away. Even by the end of the book, it is still clear that she struggles to accept what her brother chose, and she is quick to understand and sympathize with her people’s distrust when she proposes banding together.

I did enjoy the romance as well, though it did progress a bit quickly for my taste. The book is fairly short, however, so this was maybe a bit unavoidable. What really made it was how free this plotline was from any grand romantic gestures or flowery, angsty prose. Fiske was an example of one of my more favorite romantic heroes: silent and steady. Between his solid presence, and the fact that most of the emotional stakes of the book were still tied up between Eelyn and her feelings towards her brother, the romantic plotline served as an understated but sweet portion of the book.

Again, given the shortness of the book, things did progress quite quickly throughout the entire story. I could have done with several more chapters of Eelyn’s time in the Riki village and a slower arc for her coming to understand these people. However, the writing was beautiful, particularly the descriptions of winter in the deep forest. And the action is appropriately violent and exciting. If you’re a fan of historical fiction and are looking for a quick, standalone read, I definitely recommend checking out “Sky in the Deep!”

Rating 7: A breath of fresh air in YA fiction, where the female warrior is appropriately badass and the action carries readers through what could be a slightly predictable story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sky in the Deep” is a new title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it is on “2018 YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “Sky in the Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Heart Forger”

33918881Book: “The Heart Forger” by Rin Chupeco

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

Previously reviewed: “The Bone Witch”

Review: Due to happy scheduling chances, I was able to read “The Bone Witch” and “The Heart Forger” pretty much back to back. Not only is this always a fun way to read books and their sequels, but it’s especially nice with stories that have complicated world-building and non-linear storytelling. “The Bone Witch” was a beast of a book, with tons of detailed descriptions of the world, magic system, and a past/future POV character. The “Heart Forger” pretty much picks up immediately after the events of the first book, and doesn’t hesitate to expand even further on its own world, while also adding a healthy dose of increased action to the mix.

Newly-minted bone witch, Tea, has a lot on her plate at the start of this story. Her beloved mentor is still slowly perishing due to her lost heartglass, Tea’s brother’s love life has presented some political complications, her own crush on Prince Kance continues, there’s a murderous woman in the dungeons who promises great power and to reveal secrets about the elder Asha if only Tea would listen, and now a sleeping sickness is making its way through the royal family, in a direct line towards Kance himself.

This says nothing of the future Tea’s story, which has gone from zero to sixty from the last book to this. No longer is the older Tea content to live her life banished on a desolate beach, raising her daeva beasts from the dead. Her mission has started, and alongside her newly-raised beloved, Kalen, she sets out to conquer nations, all in a greater quest whose origins and purposes are still only vaguely hinted at.

Between all of this, the increased action is probably the most notable aspect of this sequel. If there was one fairly common complaint about the last book, it was that it was perhaps a bit too slow. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as I like reading books that focus on detail and slow character development. And given this one’s fast-paced story line, in retrospect, the time and effort that was put into place laying the foundation for this world, this conflict, and the characters who take part in it, were well worth the effort. Our characters quickly travel from one location to another, surviving and battling against multiple city-wide sieges and more slinky, sinister hidden antagonists as well. I particularly loved the increased action for Tea’s dragon-like daeva. It  was all very “Dany and her dragons” esque.

The political intrigue was also ratcheted up to a new level. With the sleeping sickness spreading between the royal families, tensions are high and everyone is looking for someone to blame. And the only man who might have the answer, the titular Heart Forger, is no where to be found.

In the future, an older Tea is fully committed to her plan, whatever that is. From what we (from the bard’s POV) can tell, it looks a lot like raising armies of the dead to attack entire countries. We get further insights into Tea’s vengeance, something about secrets that the elder Asha have been hiding, and a larger plot by this world’s ever-dangerous arch enemies, the Faceless. But for all of battles, both large and small, we still know very little about Tea’s reasons as a whole. There are numerous references to her having killed some woman, but we don’t know who this was or how it happened. In the end, there were almost too many question left unanswered for my taste.

One of the things I most enjoyed was the developing romance between Kalen and Tea. At the end of the first book, we saw Tea raise him from the dead and welcome him as her beloved. But at the start of this book, the younger Tea is still fully enthralled with Prince Kance. Her slow realizations about her feelings for Kalen and their relationship’s progression were very enjoyable and probably best took advantage of the solid foundation that was built between these two in the first book. I really dislike insta-love romances, and this was a particularly good example of how to avoid that, and instead have a strongly built and developed romantic story line.

For all of these good things, I did struggle with this book a bit more than the first one. For one thing, the first book spent a lot of time with all of the details and rules of this world. But then, here, we see numerous exceptions and loopholes built into the world, all seemingly used to simply move the story the way the author needed it to go. At best this was distracting as I tried to work out how these exceptions made sense in the larger scheme of things, and at worst it felt like blatant deus ex machina moments where the author’s hand was all too visible.

Further, there were a few characters who made decisions that seemed completely nonsensical and out of character even. In particular, some of the “revelations” in the future story line really seemed at odds with the characters. People keeping secrets for no reason, and then revealing them when the story would be best served for a dramatic moment. But why then keep them in the first place? I have a hard time when suspense is built in a story at the expense of consistent and rational characters

And, while I still enjoy the juxtaposition of the future and past story lines of Tea, the devise itself is starting to feel like its hindering the story. The secrets thing that I just mentioned is largely a problem because they’re needed to prop up the suspense of the future story line. And, by the end of the book, there are still too many question that were left unanswered. The older Tea has said several thing that sure, sounded cool, but don’t particularly tie-in very well to the events taking place with past Tea. In my opinion, the story has out grown this structure and that trying to maintain it was starting to actively work against this book. I hope that in the next the two story lines quickly meet up and we move forward with a single plot.

All in all, however, I still very much enjoyed “The Heart Forger.” The increased action made it a fun read, and now that the characters have all been established, it was a joy to follow all of their individual plot lines. Further, the romance between Tea and Kalen is one the best I’ve read recently. “The Bone Witch” is required reading for this book, but if you liked that one, than you’re sure to enjoy this one as well!

Rating 7: Action packedwith a sweet romance to boot, but became a bit bogged down by its own writing device with the past/present dueling story lines.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Heart Forger” is a newer title, so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Asian MG/YA 2018.”

Find “The Heart Forger” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Rosemarked”

29346927Book: “Rosemarked” by Livia Blackburne

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

Review: I was very excited to receive a copy of this book in the mail for review. I had seen it bouncing around on a few review sites, but generally it seemed to land fairly unnoticed. Which, now having read it, is quite a shame! “Rosemarked” is a powerfully simple story of invasion and colonization, hope in the face of loss, and the resilience of two characters who are set with an impossible task.

Zivah, a young healer, finds herself with the unwelcome task of caring for a troop of Amparan soldieres who fall ill with the dreaded rose plague while passing through her home. While her people have arranged a peaceful treaty with these forces, their lands is still regularly plundered and their people harmed. But Zivah knows her duty. She saves as many as she can, including the commander of the guard, but finds herself now cursed with the plague herself, doomed to die in a few years when the fever returns. But her life is not over. She finds herself drawn into a plan to infiltrate the Amparan capital to better learn what their plans are for her homeland. Now, alongside Dineas, a young solder who only recently escaped the dungeons of the city he now marches back towards and who still carries mental and emotional scars from this time, Zivah has a chance to use her knowledge of poisons and healing to save her people.

The story is told with alternating view points between Zivah and Dineas. This worked particularly well due to the vast differences in not only their personalities, but also in their life experiences and how these have shaped their worldviews. As a healer, Zivah struggles with her new reality, doomed to a short life in which even her vast knowledge cannot save her. Further, as she is highly contagious, her entire vocation has been lost to her. In this new mission, she is asked to bend and manipulate her own oaths as a healer to do no harm. What is “harm” when the balance is between individuals and nations? Where is the line when using her knowledge of herb lore and poisons?

Dineas, too, has a powerful arc throughout the story. After his time in prison, he is too broken to return to the capital as he is, not able to put on the performance necessary to convince the Amparan soldiers that he is one of them. Instead, Zivah uses a complicated potion to take away his memories. With this act, the story ultimately ends up with three characters: Zivah, original Dineas, and the Dineas who has no memory. This new Dineas, freed from his memories of torture and hatred, forms a close relationship with the healer who “saves” him. However, as their mission continues, the old Dineas must be brought forth routinely to report on what new Dineas has seen. This leads to much inner confusion and tension as he imposes his own memories, fears, and prejudices onto the actions and emotions of a self who has been freed of his difficult past. Both versions of Dineas’ are soldiers to the core. But through their two perspectives, one jaded and one naive, they each struggle with the harsh realities of warfare and the knowledge that soldiers on either side of any war are ultimately people themselves, with their own loves and lives.

The rose plague plays a large part in this story, not only through the massive impact it has on shaping Zivah’s now shortened life, but in the portrayal of this world as a whole. The plague kills the majority of those it touches. A small few recover but are doomed to live solitary lives in plague villages, waiting for the return of the fever that will claim them. And an even smaller number recover completely, the rose-colored marks on their skin browning, resulting in their being known as “umbertouched.” Through Zivah’s eyes, we see the half-life that those left with this in-between portion of life are forced to live. Cut off from society, the rosemarked are shuffled out of sight into grimy, lawless colonies, similar to a leper colony. They can not interact with loved ones, for fear of passing on the disease. And they have no future, living only on borrowed time. What’s worse, for the majority of them, society prefers to pretend they simply no longer exist. Zivah, and all the others she meets who are rosemarked, are living life in a very different want than the average person. They know their time is limited, and with this in mind, their mental calculus of risk and reward is very different.

Also, for a fantasy novel, there was practically no magic in this story. Really, other than the fact that it is set in a made-up world that is pestered by a fictional plague, this book could read as historical fiction. I quite enjoyed the lack of magic in this story, and the slow, methodical way the plot plays out. The story is simple and straightforward, relying heavily on the strength of its two central characters and their individual arcs throughout the book. For some readers, this may read as a bit slow and dull.  But for readers who enjoy character-focused stories and who can appreciate a fantasy novel with very little magic, “Rosemarked” is definitely a book worth checking out! It’s the first in a duology, with the second, “Umbertouched” set to release next fall.

Rating 7: A character-driven story that perhaps lacks depth, but still touches on important topics of vocation, one’s role in the world, and the horrible decisions that ongoing warfare brings upon a people.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rosemarked” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Best Fiction Books About Diseases or Viruses.”

Find “Rosemarked” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batman: Nightwalker”

29749090Book: “Batman: Nightwalker” (DC Icons #2) by Marie Lu

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.

One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.

In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.

Review: Now it is very true that both Serena and I are big Superman fans here, willing to stand for him and stand up to anyone who would wish him ill or call him anything less than great. And we were solidly Team Superman in the most recent DC movies that involved him. But I do have to admit that even though I want to smack Batman upside the head a lot of the time, especially in his most recent iterations and interpretations, there is a very special place in my heart for him. I will openly concede that I love him, darkness and all. What can I say? I am a true, true sucker for the emotionally unstable messed up problematic loner guy in my fiction. Bruce, take your place alongside J.D. from “Heathers”, Kylo Ren, and Bobby Briggs.

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Oh and who could forget this fella? (source)

So you KNOW that I was all about reading “Batman: Nightwalker” by Marie Lu, the second book in the “DC Icons” young adult series. These books tend to take the teenage selves of these superheroes/heroines and give them something of an origin story, or at the very least an early foray into their ultimate heroic destines. I read “Wonder Woman: Warbringer” by Leigh Bardugo last fall, and was very excited to see what the next in the series had to offer. Marie Lu herself has become a bigger and bigger name in YA, with her previous book “Warcross” getting a lot of buzz for its sci-fi and techno thriller premise. So giving her Batman was a natural choice, with his love for tech.

The Bruce Wayne that we meet in “Nightwalker” is not Batman yet. He’s still a teenager, recently turned eighteen and trying to keep going in spite of the loss of his parents, a trauma that still haunts him. Lu’s Wayne feels more like the teenage self of Michael Keaton’s version of Wayne. He is damaged and sad, but he still wants to see the best in those he cares about and wants them to be safe. There isn’t any disproportional arrogance here; he’s reflective and cautious, and has genuine connections and affections for the important people in his life. He also is fully aware of his own privilege in this world, and Lu takes many opportunities to address that his wealth and skin color has given him all the advantages that other people in similar situations just would not have (more on that later).  It’s a characterization that I found refreshing, and one that has been sorely missed ever since Bale took the cowl over and Affleck went from there. Lu does a very good job with Bruce, and with most of the other characters she writes, both familiar and original ones.  Alfred is a properly dry but loving guardian to Bruce (and yes, he’s still a bit too permissive, but then Alfred would kind of have to be for Bruce to turn into Batman later in life). Lucius Fox is a gadget fanatic but has some other background and abilities, mentoring Bruce in his love for all things tech. And my favorite was the appearance of Harvey Dent, who is one of Bruce’s best friends. I don’t know what it is about so many newer stories framing Harvey as a good person who’s turn to villainy as Two Face is steeped in tragedy (probably because of “The Long Halloween”), but I am HERE for it and I have to say that Lu has written the best one yet. There is no hint of what’s coming for him in the future, there is only a moral person and a wonderful friend who cares deeply for Bruce. Whenever Harvey was a perfect cinnamon roll of an individual (so pretty much ALL THE TIME) I just whimpered and clutched the book to my chest.

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WHY, MARIE, WHY?! (source)

The original characters, however, did not fare as well for me. Okay, let me rephrase that. Most of them did. I liked Detective Draccon, who puts Bruce on the Arkham community service beat, though she wasn’t really doing much beyond being Gordon before Gordon was around. I REALLY liked Bruce and Harvey’s bestie Dianne, a smart and empathetic brain who is fiercely loyal to her two main dudes. I had a harder time believing Madeline, the antagonistic (or IS SHE?) criminal genius who may or may not be connected to The Nightwalkers, who are targeting and killing the rich in Gotham. While I liked that she was super intelligent and super morally ambiguous, I felt that the forced star crossed lovers sort of vibe that she and Bruce gave off was unnecessary. I didn’t really need their empathy and understanding towards each other to turn into a romance that couldn’t be, I think that it would have been just fine if it was left platonic. I felt that by making her pine for Bruce undermined her own agency and self-actualization. Also, their constant “do I trust you or should I not because there’s this sexy charge between us but you are on the other side of this big long conflict” dynamic was WAY TOO Batman/Catwoman, and that just will not do. There can be only one Selina Kyle. The Nightwalker concept itself did feel very Batman villain-y, and also brought in some interesting questions about capitalism and wealth distribution in this country. I greatly enjoyed that entire aspect and how Bruce approaches it, and explores it just beyond the black and white morality and fully into the greys of capitalism’s winners and losers.

Overall, I found “Batman: Nightwalker” to be a pretty fun book. I would absolutely recommend it to any fan of Batman, especially those who may need Batman with a little more hope.

Rating 7: A fun early Batman adventure with some familiar faces and a likable Bruce Wayne. I didn’t approve of the need for a love interest, but it was a fast and fun read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batman: Nightwalker” is included on the Goodreads lists “Super Hero Books (Not Graphic Novels”, and “2018 Retelling Releases”.

Find “Batman: Nightwalker” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “13 Minutes”

32768519Book: “13 Minutes” by Sarah Pinborough

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Natasha’s sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn’t try to kill her?

Natasha is the most popular girl in school. So why was she pulled out of a freezing river after being dead for thirteen minutes? She doesn’t remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this—it wasn’t an accident, and she wasn’t suicidal.

Now Natasha’s two closest friends, who are usually her loyal sidekicks, are acting strangely. Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before, to help her figure out the mystery.

At first Becca isn’t sure that she even wants to help Natasha. But as she is drawn back into Natasha’s orbit, Becca starts putting the pieces together. As an outsider, Becca believes she may be the only one who can uncover the truth…which is far more twisted than she ever imagined.

Review: One of last year’s runaway thriller hits in this country was “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough. Yes, it’s on my pile, I’ll get to it eventually. Even though the U.S. didn’t get their sights set on Pinborough too much until this book came out, she has many, MANY books under her belt. One of those books is “13 Minutes”. So of course once “Behind Her Eyes” got the attention it did in the U.S., the same publisher brought “13 Minutes” on over too. So THAT is how I read that one before the megahit. And I must say, even though I went in without any expectations (I didn’t realize they were written by the same author until I had already started it), I can see why people are kind of obsessed with Pinborough’s thriller writing right now. Because “13 Minutes” really sucked me in.

“13 Minutes” pretty much takes “Mean Girls” and throws it into a British crime procedural, a mix that is of course super tantalizing to the likes of me. There’s something about a Queen Bee ending up in a freezing river and then having to solve the mystery of how and why she got there. This story is told in a few different ways. We get straight up third person narrative, some first person POV, and then texts, diary entries, psychiatric notes, and news reports. These are all pretty standard these days when it comes to thriller fiction, but I liked how Pinborough carefully crafted it all together and took you down a path with lots of twists and surprises. I will happily report that a few of them actually caught me off guard. I even got that moment of ‘okay, this seems wrapped up, but there’s so much story left, so what’s going on OHBOYOHBOY’, something that I just delight in when reading a thriller novel. I feel a bit sheepish that I was so easily tricked, but Pinborough combines meticulous clue hiding and just enough unreliable narration on ALL sides that I’m not even mad that I was so totally thrown off the trail, especially since the stakes became quite high quite quickly once I realized I’d been duped.

The characters themselves, however, kind of fall into tropes that are all too familiar these days. Tasha is the mean girl who may have more depth than we expect of her. Becca is a brooding loner who tries to be aloof, but is still desperate for the affection and acceptance of her former best friend. Hayley and Jenny are both nasty and poisonous, but are also victims of Tasha’s scorn and their own insecurities. I didn’t really feel like the wheel was being reinvented with any of them, and while I was attached to Becca at least and wanted everything to be okay for her, I knew that I wouldn’t be horribly upset if it wasn’t. I wasn’t really in it for the characters as much as I was the plot and the mystery. That said, I do think that Pinborough did a pretty good job within those characterizations. I was especially taken with her writing of Tasha, who did feel like the most of complex of them all. I did also like that the book addresses that for many people the need to be accepted can make you do things that you aren’t proud of, and that being a teenager as well can make things especially messy.

But if you are in it to be taken on a fun and wild ride, “13 Minutes” will probably be a good match for you. I read it in about two marathon sittings, and I probably could have done it in one if I had the chance and time to do it. Now that I’ve found out what the big deal is about Pinborough’s thriller writing, I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for any future works that she may be bringing to the table.

Kate’s Rating 7: Though the characters were fairly standard and trope ridden for the most part, the plot and mystery itself kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“13 Minutes” is included on the Goodreads list “Young Adult Contemporary Thrillers 2016”, and would fit in on “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”.

Find “13 Minutes” at your library using WorldCat!