Serena’s Review: “Princess of Thorns”

18782855Book: “Princess of Thorns” by Stacey Jay

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2014

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

Book Description: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it’s too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

Review: I picked up this audiobook in a spur of the moment panic brought about by previously requested audiobooks not being ready at the library and a long, traffic-filled commute staring me down. This book had been hanging out for so long on my to-read list that I have completely forgotten how it go there and (an even worse habit!) I had begun to assume that because I hadn’t gotten to it in so long, I must not really have been that interested in the first place. Reading the description, some type of bizarre fairytale re-telling about the Sleeping Beauty’s daughter it sounded like something that would be right up my alley, so why hadn’t I gotten to it?! Ah, the mysteries of life, and one that burned me in the end here for ignoring such a delightful story for so long.

Just as the description suggests, this is indeed a fairytale type re-telling, if by “re-telling” you mean “tragic post script to the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story that, depending on the translation, is already pretty horrifying.” The prince who wakes up the Sleeping Beauty is indeed a jerkwad of the “hide your multiple wives” variety. And things only get worse when an Ogre prophesy puts her two children at risk, leading to her imprisonment and some truly terrible forced choices. The story then picks up 17 years later following Aurora who is now working off a tight deadline to rescue her brother from the Ogre Queen and raise an army to save her kingdom. All with the help of Niklaas, a seemingly shallow prince who is hell-bent on marrying a princess.

Niklaas was one of the most surprising elements of this story. Based on the cover, the book description, and, let’s be honest, the tons of YA fairytales that have come before it, I went into this assuming that Aurora would be our one and only POV character. So color me surprised when Niklaas shows up and steals away half the story for his own! And I couldn’t be more happy about it. Niklaas brings his own fairytale to the book, this time a twisted version of the “Seven Swans” story, and his own personality to the page. His is one of my favorite character types to stumble upon. Witty, but flawed. Self-aware, but delusional about how he comes across to others. He’s the type of character you should hate (as Aurora first does as well) for all of his egotism and blatantly stereotypical and demeaning opinions about women. But he’s so charming and hilarious that you end up loving him anyways, gleefully waiting for the inevitable slap to the face that will knock him out of his narrow way of thinking. He was a perfect foil to the more impulsive (reckless!) Aurora, and a humorous balance to her own more straight-laced approach to the trials and tribulations they find themselves in.

Aurora, herself, was also a great character. Not only did we have Niklaas showing up as one of my favorite types of romantic leads (the kind that exist as more than a romantic lead in the first place), but with Aurora I had another favorite trope: girls disguised as boys. The biggest challenge with this approach is balancing the friendship/romance between the two main characters in a believable way. For Aurora’s perspective, it is easier, as she is in on the sham the entire time. So for her, it was most enjoyable simply watching her slowly realize that for all of his foibles, Niklaas might be a good guy. But for Niklaas, it’s harder. His relationships with Aurora starts out purely platonic, with him believing that she is her younger brother. Their friendship and camaraderie during this period was great, and I was beyond pleased with the way the author transitioned this relationship once the secret comes out (this is NOT a spoiler, cuz…obviously). Particularly, I loved that the challenges of this reveal weren’t hand-waved away. Not only does Niklaas have to come to terms with the new reality he’s living, but also that he’s been actively lied to for weeks. Full points for the author in her handling of this entire storyline.

Beyond these two, the most surprising part of this story was the inclusion of a handful of story chapters from the POV of the Ogre Queen herself. Initially I was rather put off by this as I had been having a grand ole time romping around in the woods with Niklaas and boy!Aurora. But the Ogre Queen’s chapters, and the character herself, brought a necessary level of severity to a story that could have easily slipped into pure silly escapism (though there’s a healthy dose of that, for which I was glad as well). For the few number of pages she’s allotted, the Ogre Queen’s transformation and story arc was probably the most compelling. Her story was unique and completely unexpected, probably bring the only truly “new” portions to this fairytale from the long lists of marks that are almost always hit in these types of books.

My only frustrations came towards the end. Throughout the story, Aurora’s character is pushed to grow and adapt from her particular brand of bravery that often revealed itself in foolhardy decision making with results that could have been prevented if a bit more thought had gone into them. With all of the build up, I went into the final act ready for her to complete this arc. And…in a way she does? But not really. She ultimately makes all the wrong choices and is only saved by the courage and sacrifice of those around her. There’s a very brief moment where she does confront this reality and make one good decision that does have major ramifications. But only after making ALL OF THE WRONG decisions up to that point, with only luck leaving her this one last opportunity to make it right. She does pay a steep price, but I ultimately felt that her arc was left rather incomplete in this area. Did she really learn a lesson here? Was it really satisfying that everything ended up aces for her out of pure luck? I wasn’t completely satisfied on either account.

But let’s not end on that note! Even with those frustrations, this book was completely and utterly a joy to read! It may have hit me at just the right moment when I needed a bit of humor, romance, and adventure without too many complicated strings attached. But as a beach read, I think it’s perfect, so make sure to grab a copy before you head off on vacay this summer!

Rating 8: Pure fun! If only brought down a few points by a bit too much luck in the end for my taste.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Princess of Thorns” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Disguised as Boys” and “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems.”

Find “Princess of Thorns” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “This Savage Song”

23299512Book: “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Info: Greenwillow Books, July 2016

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

Book Description: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Review: After reading and loving Victoria Schwab’s “Darker Shade of Magic” series, I decided to go ahead and check out her young adult offerings. And while I still prefer her adult fantasy trilogy (though this was a very high bar so most books should be excused from not reaching the same highs, even those by the same author), I very much enjoyed this first book in what will be a completed duology once the final book comes out one week from now.

Schwab herself described this book as “Romeo and Juliet” but with monsters and without romance, and since my biggest problem with “Romeo and Juliet” wanna-be stories is the often trite romantic flounderings of the protagonists, I was excited to see how she would pull this off. I mean, what even is a “Romeo and Juliet” story without romantic nonsense? Turns out its pretty much a gang war in a city that has been taken over by demons of its own creation.

The world building was strong, right out of the gate, from the equally hellish northside and southside of the city and their various approaches to life in a now monster-filled world, to the monsters themselves. Born from human acts of hatred and violence, the city is plagued by three types of beasts. The Corsai, a viscous shadow-like creature that lurks in the dark places of the world only to emerge at night and shred its victims. The Malchai who resemble skeleton-thin humans and drink blood, similar to vampires in all but their ability to walk during the day. And the Sunnai, most rare and least understood of the monsters who can steal a soul with their song. Years ago, with the sudden appearance of these monsters, the city’s population sank into warfare only creating a tenuous peace after a massive disaster took out several city blocks. Since then, the city has been split, north and south, with one side fighting against the monsters and enforcing a strict rule of law for those committing crimes (and creating more monsters in the process), and the other ruled by a gang lord who has managed to rope the monsters into some semblance of control and requires his citizens pay for protection. These are the two sides from which our main characters come. Kate, the daughter of said gang lord, eager to prove herself stronger than the mother who attempted to flee the city so many years ago only to meet a tragic end. And August, a Sunnai, and adopted son of the fighters’ leader, who wishes he weren’t a monster and who struggles to find his role in this war.

Both Kate and August were intriguing, complicated characters. Each struggles with their own tenuous understanding of family, from Kate’s complicated relationship with a father who has distanced himself from her throughout her entire life, to August’s role, alongside his “brother” and “sister,” the only other two Sunnai, who all have been adopted by the leader of the resistance. Not only do the two not fully understand the war that they’ve inherited and the people who have already been fighting it, but each struggles with their own understanding of what is and what is not “monstrous” in this world.

August’s Sunnai abilities were particularly interesting, both the connection to his music and his own limitations. The Corsai and Malchai are fairly clearly described early in the book, while the Sunnai remain mysterious, even while having chapters featuring a Sunnai himself. This exploration of what it means to be a monster and what it means to be a Sunnai specifically was very compelling. All three Sunnai, August, his brother, and his sister, are all different in their abilities, their philosophy on the use of those abilities, and the arc they travel throughout the story.

Throughout all of this detailed world and character-building, Schwab manages to insert an action-packed plot full of danger and mystery. Every time that it felt like the plot was reaching a crescendo (ha!), she would wisely pull back for a quiet, character-driven moment. It was this delicate balance between action, adventure, and quite frankly, a lot of violence, with these these slow, beautiful, character introspections that really made this book stand out.

The only thing I will say as a negative was that while I loved Kate and August as characters in their own right, they didn’t jump off the page the same way that Lila and Kel did. There were a few scenes that read a bit flat, a few instances where I felt that Kate and August were slow to pick up the clues that were laid before them, and just a few missteps with dialogue that rang a bit forced. But, really, take all of these criticisms with a gigantic grain of salt. Again, see the overly high expectations that were set by the “Shades of Magic” series. For fans of young adult fantasy who are looking for a completely unique magical setting and two main characters who are blessedly free (so far) of romantic entanglements, definitely check out “This Savage Song.”

Rating 8: A great new YA fantasy, blessedly free of love triangles and any romance at all, really!

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Savage Song” is on these Goodreads lists: “YA Feuding Families” and “Unique special abilities/superpowers.”

Find “This Savage Song” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “The Inquisitor’s Tale”

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

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

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

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

Kate’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Serena’s Thoughts

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

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Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club Questions

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

Reader’s Advisory

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

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

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

 

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business”

26067583Book: “Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business” by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher (Ill.), and Babs Tarr (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Like daughter, like father.

Over the past few months, Barbara Gordon has made some big changes to her Batgirl alter ego. She has a new look, new support team and new home base in Burnside, Gotham’s trendiest neighborhood. But just when she’s hitting her stride, her fahter drops a bombshell–Babs isn’t the only masked crime-fighter in the family anymore. Jim Gordon is the new Batman.

After the original Batman fell fighting the Joker, the former police commissioner was given a high-tech super-suit and asked to take up the mantle. With a team of GCPD officers watching his every move, Jim Gordon’s new law-and-order Batman has zero tolerance for vigilantism. He’s been ordered to arrest any unsanctioned superhero in Gotham–and Batgirl is next!

Review: Barbara Gordon, as we all know, has a very special place in my heart. Because of that, I was very excited that I liked the new “Batgirl” storyline that Cameron Stewart brought to the world, but also kind of nervous. What if I liked it, and then it collapsed under it’s own weight? After all, that’s what happened to “Black Canary” in my reading experience. So while I was very eager to pick up “Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business”, part of me was anxious. I finally sat down and read it, and I’m pleased to say that it did not disappoint.

I like how Barbara is progressing. While I was a bit lost regarding her father (ex) Chief Gordon taking up the Batman mantle (I haven’t read any New 52 Batman stories), I liked that we got an interesting shift in power dynamic, with Barbara knowing his secret identity without him knowing hers. Seeing her interact with her father in his Batman form (in a giant robotic suit, no less) was both a little bittersweet, and also a confirmation of both of their personalities; she being stubborn and fervent, and him being willing to bend the rules when deep in his heart he knows he should. This wasn’t the only crossover we got in this book, as Barbara also ran afoul Maps and Olive at Gotham Academy. I’m glad that they didn’t spend too much time there, though, because while it was good for a taste I tend to get a bit weary of crossovers. I do keep up with “Gotham Academy” as best I can, but I don’t think that I should necessarily have to read multiple storylines in the DC Universe to keep up with one title.

We also got a glimpse of Dick Grayson and whatever he is up to right now in the DC Universe. This was probably my least favorite of the crossover storylines, because it was just Dick trying to maintain the facade that he is dead, and hiding from Barbara… Until he decided to jump back into her life on his own terms and expected her to jump back into his arms, no questions asked.

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Grayson, please. (source)

I was happy to see that Barbara didn’t take any of that lying down, and called him out on it and how it’s not romantic, but incredibly hurtful…. But that said, as a person who deeply, deeply ships Batgirl and Nightwing, I was upset to see it go down the way it did. Not only was it sad for them, it just felt shoehorned in, and it distracted from a much happier (and lighter) storyline, which was Alysia and her girlfriend Jo getting married!!! True, the storyline leading up to it was a bit silly (involving tigers mauling people), but the end game was very pleasant. Nice to see that Barbara can still be there for her friends in spite of her life of daring do.

I am also happy to report that it seems that I’m going to be getting my Oracle fix in the very near future!! While Barbara herself won’t be taking this role, there have been hints that Frankie, Barbara’s coder roommate, is going to team up with her and serve as this role. Even if Barbara is reluctant to let her take it on just yet, because of worries to Frankie’s safety. The tension that this brings is a good way to remind us that Barbara, while well meaning, hasn’t quite reconciled that she does, in fact, need help. I think that giving this role to Frankie is perfect, because she’s incredibly technologically adept, and she is there to be a voice of reason to Barbara as well as someone she can confide in. And THIS, I feel, is how to reinvent a character in a comic setting. The transition wasn’t forced and the adjustment felt natural and completely plausible, nor did Barbara have to be humiliated or character assassinated to make it work. If Frankie is, indeed, on her way to becoming the new Oracle, I welcome it with open arms and hope that she gets a lot of cool, research-y things to do.

Overall, a couple of bumps notwithstanding, I was pleased with how the “Batgirl” storyline has been progressing. “Family Business” was a fun and bubbly read. Barbara is still charming and complex, and her adventures will keep me coming back for more.

Rating 8: The re-emergence of a new Oracle and some more fun action and thrills with Barbara made a fun second installment in the new “Batgirl” iteration!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Batgirl”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”.

Serena’s Review: “The Alloy of Law”

10803121Book: “The Alloy of Law” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor, November 11

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

Book Description: Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity – railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.

Review: I have resisted reading this book for a while based completely on my utter love of the first Mistborn trilogy and the continuing and endless sadness that came about in the wake of leaving that cast of characters behind. However, Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors and while I impatiently wait for the next book in his current epic fantasy series, I decided that it was about time to check out “The Alloy of Law.”

First off, while this book is technically the beginning of a new a trilogy and can be read without first reading the original “Mistborn” series, I would strongly recommend doing that first anyways. Sanderson does a good job of re-describing his world and the elements of his magic system, especially with regards to how these abilities are changed in this new industrial era, but there’s still a lot of strings that need to be picked up from the first book. As I said, I read and loved the original trilogy, but it has been years since I finished it, so in many ways I was coming into this book with similarly new eyes as a first time reader. I had just enough knowledge to know what I was missing, essentially. There are references to the original cast scattered here and there (particularly their influence on the various religions that have formed in the last three centuries), and the complicated magic system gets a brief re-fresh, but the fully detailed accounting of the ins and outs of all the various abilities are not presented again. As I said, the book is technically approachable as is, but I feel that new readers are missing out on quite a bit if they don’t read the first trilogy before diving into this one.

Sanderson is best known for his brilliant magic systems and once again he does not disappoint. Many elements that show up here are carry-overs from the original, but as even the name of the book itself implies, over the years these abilities have merged and changed with the creation of metallic alloys. Essentially, allomancers are those born with the ability to swallow and “burn” flecks of different metals, each metal granting them a distinct ability. Our two main characters, Wax and Wane each have a combination of these abilities. Wax has one of the most common gifts, the ability to push against metals, as well as the ability to increase/decrease his own weight. With Wane, Sanderson introduces one of the new allomantic powers, the ability to create time bubbles; he is also able to store/use health, allowing him to heal wounds with stored health from self-enforced sicknesses. These abilities were all incredibly well thought out and utilized throughout the story. In particular, I loved the exploration of how allomancy has changed in a new industrial era that now has things like railroad lines, guns, and many other metal creations that would affect how allomancers can use their powers.

The western setting was also a nice change from the original trilogy which adhered to a more typical fantasy setting. Government, business, society as a whole, has all moved forwards from the cataclysmic events of the first books. I’ve particularly enjoyed this recent trend of western/fantasy crossovers, but I understand how the appeal might be strange for fans looking for more traditional fantasy. And, while the western elements were engaging, it was also clear that Sanderson’s strengths lie with the fantasy portions. There were a few bits that felt too on the nose or too closely mirrored classic western storytelling for me. I applaud the effort, but wish he had been a bit more gutsy with the setting and western style as a whole.

Characters wise, this book is solid. Fans of Sanderson will be familiar with the character type that Wax represents: strong, lawful good, a conflicted hero who must choose to join the fight once again. I like this character type however, so while Wax felt familiar in many ways, I still very much enjoyed reading his story. Wane was a great counter balance to Wax, less serious and bringing the more raucous joy to the book. The main female character, Marasi, sadly, felt less fleshed out than I have come to expect from the author who brought us the awesome Vin. There was all together too much blushing on her part, and while she was crucial to the success of the group’s plan, she was also a damsel in distress a few too many times. The other two main female characters had potential, but had so little page time that they each felt rather one dimensional in their own way. Lastly, for characters, I will say that I very much enjoyed the villain of this story. In many ways, the villain’s perspective was relatable and sympathetic, something that always makes for a stronger nemesis, and his abilities were sufficiently intimidating for readers to respect the challenge he posed for our heroes.

I very much enjoyed “The Alloy of Law.” My biggest concerns (the less developed world-building with the western setting and simpler female characters) can all be laid at the foot of the book’s shorter page length. I’m used to Sanderson’s fantasy tomes and all the goodies that come with spending hundreds and hundreds of pages on one story. However, even with the condensed page length, this book was a solid start to a new trilogy in the “Mistborn” world, and I am excited to see where the story goes from here!

Rating 8: Only suffering for not being longer and letting loose the full power of the author’s creativity and characterization!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Alloy of Law” is included on the Goodreads lists “Gunpowder Fantasy” and “Most Interesting Magic System.”

Find “The Alloy of Law” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

22359662Book: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Orbit Books, October 2016

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

Book Description: FEEDBACK is a full-length Newsflesh novel which overlaps the events of New York Times bestseller Mira Grant’s classic Feed and follows a group of reporters covering the Democratic side of the Presidential campaign.

There are two sides to every story…

Mira Grant creates a chilling portrait of an America paralyzed with fear. No street is safe and entire swaths of the country have been abandoned. And only the brave, the determined, or the very stupid, venture out into the wild. Step inside a world a half-step from our own in this novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

Review: And we get another zombie story! The zombie story is one that is still riding pretty high, thanks to “The Walking Dead” and it’s continued (though perhaps wavering) popularity. I’ve been into the zombie genre ever since high school when me and my sister (I was sixteen, she was twelve) sat down and watched the original “Night of the Living Dead”. Though she was absolutely horrified by the disgusting cannibalistic violence on the screen, I was completely into it, finding it to be scary and unsettling and super fun. Now I’m in the thirties and I still can’t get enough, though I’m more interested in unique takes on the genre as a whole. I’ve mentioned Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” Series here before, and while I really do enjoy it for it’s creativity and the badass blogging main character Georgia “George” Mason, I felt that the rest of her team of bloggers (including hot headed brother Shaun) to be not as endearing. However, a world where zombies came about due to the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer merging and mutating is SO enjoyable that I love the universe that she has created.

So enter “Feedback”. While “Feed” and it’s sequels “Deadline” and “Blackout” follow the Masons and their turn from political bloggers to targets of government ire, “Feedback” is something totally new within the same timeline. This time we’re following another blogging team, this one a bit more scrappy and independent. You have Aislinn “Ash” North, an Irish Irwin (aka blogger who goes into the thick of zombie danger for clicks and likes) who has attitude and snark for days. You have her husband Ben, a Newsie (news blogger) who married Ash to give her U.S. citizenship (as being a lesbian in post Rising, incredibly zealous Ireland was a bad spot) who is loyal and determined to get the truth out there. You have Audrey, a fiction blogger who is hiding from her past. And you have Mat, a techie/make up blogger who is genderfluid and hoping to end up as a make up artist to the powerful of this world. So when they are approached by Susan Kilburn, Democratic Governor of Oregon and Presidential Hopeful, to follower her on the campaign trail, much as the Masons are doing with the Republican front runner, this team is thrilled. And of course, much like in “Feed”, all does not go well.

While my love for George Mason will never be replaced by anyone else, I have to say that “Feedback” was super enjoyable and Ash was a great protagonist! She has a little more attitude and is a little rougher around the edges than George, and she wears her heart on her sleeve, which made her very easy to connect with. You get the sense from the get go that she and her team have had to fight tooth and nail to get where they are, and while sometimes she could be a little precious in her toughness, she always had her vulnerabilities laid out. As a whole I enjoyed this team more than the bloggers at After the End Times because in one book you got a sense for each and every single one of them, even with it being filtered through a First Person Perspective. I also liked that in this book there was far from societal speculation in regards to how different countries would react to the zombie plague, specifically Ash’s home country of Ireland. Ash, a lesbian who has no interest in fitting into societal norms, was highly oppressed in Ireland, which became a far more conservative and patriarchal state after the rising. It felt very dour and yet realistic to address the fact that in reaction to something as awful as a zombie apocalypse, some countries would put stake into zealous and restrictive morals such as forced breeding and the debasement of those who don’t wish to lead that kind of life. Grant tackles a lot of social issues in this book in regards to sexuality, race, and gender, and it was nice to see these things cropping up as important matters to address.

The plot itself was pretty good too. The intrigue and cloak and dagger issues of someone deliberately planting zombies at various political gatherings is something that we might remember from the original “Newsflesh” series, and to what ends this all will shake out. But seeing this group of journalists stumble into it quicker and more accidentally was fun, because it made for a lot more action as the consequences came to a head. I will keep it vague here, because you may want to read “Feed” and it’s sequels first, but let’s just say that Ash and her team are a bit more aware and have more time to make some decisions in regards to how to proceed. But that also kind of leads to the problem I had with this book, which I am going to talk about in it’s full spoilery glory. So yep, that means you get a

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Ash and her team eventually end up running away from the (redacted) threat, hoping to make it into the wilds of Canada. But as they are moving their way through the Pacific Northwest, they are kidnapped by a group of survivors run by a cruel and misogynistic despot who intends on creating a new society literally underground. His name is Clive, and he decides that Ash is going to be one of his many companions who he will eventually use to have an array of children to keep the human species going. Mind you, this happens about two thirds of the way into the book. This storyline is something that 1) we have seen many times before in our zombie fiction, from “28 Days Later” to “The Walking Dead”, and 2) is far too large of a plot point to introduce so far into a narrative. It honestly could have taken up an entire book of it’s own, so to try and shoehorn it in felt rushed and disingenuous. I really did not see a point to it. HAD this book ended with them being taken by this group, and HAD that story been saved for a second book in a series, it would have made more sense. Even if it would have been a bit old hat, it still could have been fleshed out enough that I would have been able to give it something of a pass. As it was, it just kind of felt like Grant wanted one more hurdle for this group and this was tossed in and rushed through. That was pretty aggravating.

I should also mention that I really liked Georgia Dolenz, the woman who did the narration for this audiobook! She was great at varying her voices for each character, and held consistent accents for the characters who had them.

So while “Feedback” isn’t necessarily as strong as “Feed”, overall I liked this team more than the team in that series (Georgia Mason aside), and would SO read more about them. The book kind of ended on a note of finality, but I could easily see Grant picking them up again and telling us more. I hope that she does, because I am still hungry for more stories about the Kellis-Amberlee Zombie Universe!

Rating 8: A fun and new group of bloggers are a great addition to the “Newsflesh” series. Had it not been for a random detour too far into the plot, this could have lived up to the greatness that was the original “Feed”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Feedback” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now (can’t understand why not),  but I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Zombie Books for Girls/Women”, and “Are YOU Ready for the Zombie Attack?”.

Find “Feedback” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Ghost”

28954126We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

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

Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Kate’s Thoughts

It occurred to me and the rest of book club that we have been dong a fair  amount of Middle Grade books for this session! Which, hey, that’s just fine. I know that for some of us, me included to a certain extent, the fear with middle grade is that the book may rely less on nuance and more on being explicitly clear about what is going on. But the good news is that with “Ghost,” one of the deluge of books by Jason Reynolds recently, the story never seems to underestimate the middle grade audience. Not only are the themes of this book pretty sophisticated, such as parental abuse, systematic oppression, and bullying, but Reynolds doesn’t seem to feel a need to water anything down. Ghost is a very intriguing and complex protagonist, who is dealing with a large amount of trauma due to his father trying to kill him and his mother when he was younger. I thought that Reynolds addressed this trauma in a way that wasn’t told but definitely shown. Ghost has a lot to deal with, and while his first person POV never explicitly describes how he’s dealing, the reader gets a very clear sense of how much this continues to haunt him. Though I’ll be honest, the sports theme wasn’t really my thing, just because I myself am not really a sports oriented person (outside of hockey and baseball). I was definitely skimming the more sports oriented parts, and wanted to get back to Ghost’s personal life and struggles.

I think it’s also important to note that I greatly appreciate the fact that “Ghost” is a book that has People of Color as the default. What I mean by this is that in many books, ‘white’ is kind of the default character, so when the author describes someone, their skin is kind of assumed to be white, while characters of color have their skin described almost right off the bat. In this book, however, it’s the opposite, and the white characters are the ones who are described as if they are outside the norm. Given that the middle grade and YA publishing industry is still struggling with diversity, this was refreshing.

I liked “Ghost” quite a bit and I think that a lot of kids could find a lot of things to like about it as well.

Serena’s Thoughts

Like Kate said, sports books aren’t really my thing either. Unless it’s, like, magical horse racing or something. I read a few as a kid, like the almost required “Maniac Magee,” but never really went beyond that. But “Ghost” has received a lot of attention as a great new addition to middle grade fiction, including both a diverse cast of characters and a story/topic that is likely to appeal to middle grade boys (the age-group-bane of most public librarians’ existence!), so I was excited to try it out. And while sports books will never be my thing, I found myself quite enjoying this one.

Reynolds expertly mixes the two primary parts that make up this book: track and life trauma. The obvious parallels about literally and figuratively running away from one’s struggles are never hit on the head too fully, and I appreciate the author’s dexterity in creating a story that doesn’t simplify the realities its main character has lived through. As an adult reader I very much enjoyed such literary touches as opening the story with the shot of the gun his father is aiming at Ghost and his mother and closing it with the shot of the pop gun to begin the race. This ability to weave real depth into the story while also creating a relatable main character with an excellent voice that would appeal to young readers really makes this book stand out. Ghost himself could make me laugh on one page and want to shake him on the next.

I also enjoyed the fact that the sport in question was track. There are tons of books out there about the more traditional sports like football, basketball, and more and more often, soccer. But track with its strange balance of individual stakes and teamwork was a unique sport to choose. My own track career was very short (due to a happy ankle sprain that got me out of it, essentially), but I still enjoyed reading the sporting portion of the book as well.

Reading books like this is why I particularly enjoy being involved in a great bookclub. I’m consistently challenged to read outside of my own comfort zone and discover excellent books like this that I likely would never have stumbled upon myself.

Kate’s Rating 8: While I don’t really care about the sports themes of this book, I liked Ghost and the other members of the track team, as well as the way that Reynolds tackled some pretty complex themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: “Ghost” was an excellent middle grade book that provided deep commentary on important topics while never losing sight of its own story and audience.

Book Club Questions

  1. What do you think motivates Ghost to run at the beginning of the book? Do you think that has changed by the end of it?
  2. What did you think of how Coach dealt with Ghost stealing the shoes? Why do you think Ghost impulsively stole the shoes in the first place?
  3. The end of the book is fairly ambiguous about how the track team ended up in the race. Did you wish that there was a definitive ‘win’ or ‘lose’ outcome? Do you think the book needed that?
  4. What did you think of the other members of the track team? This is going to be a series that follows each of these kids. Whose story are you most excited for, and why?
  5. This is a middle grade book, though Reynolds is known for writing YA books as well. How do you think this book would have been different had it been written for a YA audience?

Reader’s Advisory

“Ghost” is included on the Goodreads lists “2016 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”, and “2017 Mock Newbery.

Find “Ghost” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog”.