Kate’s Review: “The Boy on the Bridge”

31554413Book: “The Boy on the Bridge” by. M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Book Description: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Review: First and foremost, I want to thank Orbit/Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book. In exchange for you generosity I will provide an honest review.

A couple of years ago I picked up the much hyped and much loved novel “The Girl With All The Gifts”. I had heard nothing but praise about it from those around me who like zombie fiction, and given that I like zombie fiction so much I had high hopes for it. While I did like aspects of it, overall I was kind of underwhelmed by it. But I made a note to keep reading Carey’s stuff, as plot aside I really loved the writing style and how Carey explores his characters so deeply. “Fellside” proved to be a win for me (as seen on this blog). And that brings us to Carey’s newest novel, “The Boy on the Bridge”. Though it’s not a sequel to “The Girl With All The Gifts”, it is a companion piece that takes place in the same world, where a fungal zombie infection has ravaged mankind.

Since our book description doesn’t really give us much of an idea what this book is about, I’ll give you a rundown. “The Boy on the Bridge” takes place about tenish years before “The Girl With All The Gifts”, with a combination military and scientific research team heading out into the world of the ‘hungries’ to try and gather samples and specimens that could potentially lead to a better understanding of the infection, and perhaps a cure. If you remember from the first book, that group of protagonists stumbled upon a mobile lab called the “Rosalind Frank”, which seems to be stopped in it’s tracks without succeeding in it’s mission. Well guess which mobile team we’re following! Yep, The Rosalind Frank team! So there are some foregone conclusions that could be drawn from this…..

But that doesn’t stop Carey from drawing many emotions and facets to his characters. The team has a number of interesting characters. There’s Samrina Khan, a scientist who has recently discovered herself pregnant by another member of the team, John. She is now more than ever determined to find some hope for the sake of her baby. There’s Dr. Fournier, the leader of the science part of the team, who is singleminded and determined to throw his weight around as one of those in command (who is also trying to figure out who the father of Khan’s baby is, as he sees it as a breach of protocol). There’s Colonel Carlisle, who is the head of the military team, and who is haunted by his past during the early days of the infection. And then there’s Stephen Greaves. He’s a teenage boy and science prodigy who invented the e-blockers that people use to hide their scents from the hungries, who may be able to find a cure as well. He is on the spectrum, and Dr. Khan is the only person that he trusts, and the only person who really understands him. With a few other people in their team, they are traveling up towards Scotland, trying to gather as much info as they can. But they soon discover that something is following them, something that none of them have ever seen before. These things look like children, but are definitely not ‘human’, nor at they fully ‘hungries’ either. They could be the key to a cure, but they could also be the team’s downfall.

So there were the same issues in this one that I had with “The Girl With All The Gifts”. I did find myself a bit bored sometimes with how the story is told. It’s definitely a writing style choice that focuses more on the literary and less on the pulpy thriller, and that can encourage my mind and attention wander sometimes. I don’t think that it’s through any fault of Carey’s, mind you. I just found myself skimming a bit, and would have to go back and re-read sections because of it. I found myself wanting to get to the point faster than we did at times. But like in “The Girl With All The Gifts” I did find the characters in “The Boy on the Bridge” interesting, and in this one I was more interested in the overall story arc than I was in the previous book. There is just something about an official mission that goes horribly wrong that will always, ALWAYS suck me in. It’s a plot point that you don’t see too much in modern zombie fiction, which tends to focus more on the chaos of living in the zombie zone. I liked how the tension between the science side and the military side was built up in this story. It’s a trope that is old as time itself, but when it’s done well it can feel fresh and unique. In this book we get it not only through the encounters with the hungries (like we did in the first book), but also through the character of Greaves, who few people care to understand because he’s Autistic. Many of the military people call him “The Robot”, and their lack of understanding is frustrating to Dr. Khan. It’s not wholly unrealistic either, given how people on the spectrum are viewed and treated in modern society. I thought that Carey did a good job with Greaves as a character overall. It felt like he did a lot of research and took great care to make him an accurate and sensitive representation of  a neurodivergent person. Greaves had many moments that I found incredibly bittersweet, and humorous, and yes, frustrating, but he always felt very real, and worked as a great dual protagonist along with Dr. Khan, whose determination to survive is noble and perhaps heartbreaking in it’s likely futility. While the other characters kind of treaded towards two dimensions at times, these two always felt fully realized with clear motivations and personalities.

The scenes with the hungries were also pretty tense, as I found myself holding my breath when they were fully interacting, wondering if logic would prevail over fear. I appreciate the concept of humankind evolving to adjust and adapt to the ‘Cordyceps’ pathogen, as we as humans sometimes tend to think that we are the end of an evolutionary line, as if our present selves are the goal. But really, evolution doesn’t have an end point, it keeps on moving and changing and adapting. So I LOVE that Carey has introduced that aspect of the theory into his stories, and postulates that perhaps this kind of catastrophic event wouldn’t necessarily lead to our extinction, but to a transformation. Perhaps we wouldn’t be the same as we are now, but we wouldn’t necessarily be wiped away from the world.

Do you have to read “The Girl With All The Gifts” to appreciate “The Boy on the Bridge”? That’s kind of a hard question to answer. I think that it does work as a standalone for the most part, at least up until the epilogue (which I won’t spoil here, because it’s a great nod to the first book). But even then I think that you would be on solid footing, perhaps just not as able to appreciate the revelations and scenes that come right at the end of the book. I also think that I enjoyed it more than “The Girl With All The Gifts” just because the plot felt like a new take within this already new take, and I don’t know if that would be as clear if you hadn’t read the previous book. But that said, you won’t be lost at all. You just may not see the easter eggs that are laid out.

“The Boy on the Bridge” does stand on it’s own two feet, and I did enjoy going back into this world. I definitely recommend that those who loved the first book should get their hands on this one as soon as possible. And if you were like me and wasn’t as caught up in “The Girl With All The Gifts”, this book may still be worth the read.

Rating 8: With a couple well explored characters and some tense zombie moments, “The Boy on the Bridge” was a good companion piece to “The Girl With All The Gifts”. It may be richer by having read the previous book, but it isn’t a requirement.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Boy on the Bridge” is included on the Goodreads lists “Waterstones Recommends”, and “Most Anticipated Novels of 2017”.

Find “The Boy on the Bridge” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodsworn”

28439795Book: “The Bloodsworn” by Erin Lindsey

Publication Info: Ace, September 2016

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

Book Description: Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.

Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear…

Review: The final book in the “Bloodbound” trilogy starts out with our heroes in what appears to be an unwinnable situation. King Erik is being controlled by a bloodbinder making him erratic and prone to paranoia (the extreme kind that leads to executions of close friends and family for “treason”). Rig’s battle at the front line has pretty much reached its limit with invasion imminent. Alix must venture deep into enemy territory to attempt to kill the bloodbinder who is controlling the King. And Liam is left to manage a country that is on the brink of destruction, all while hiding the fact that he has the King locked up in a room in the castle. A fact that would surely lead to his immediate death if it were to be discovered. The stakes are high.

At this point, it’s almost hard to remember that this series started out more as a romantic romp with some military/fantasy aspects thrown in than anything else. Sure, there was a large battle at the end and some political maneuvering here and there. But there were a lot of quieter moments where Alix’s personal life was the primary focus. Then the second book came along and everything changed. That entire book was just one massive failure after another for our heroes. And here, in the third, everything just seems kind of hopeless. All of the odds are stacked against them, and even their best case scenarios look grim. I mean, sure, if Alix saves the King, great! But they still have to deal with the fact that they have no allies (having blown their ambassadorial trips in the second book) and an enemy with an army that doubles their own.

I was happy to see that Alix once again played a major part in this story. While I still very much enjoyed the second book, her reduced presence was my biggest complaint. Instead, understandably, given his brain-washed state, Erik takes a back seat to the other characters here. I also liked the fact that Alix’s story line once again took us into the neighboring realms, this time their occupied neighbor whose resistance fighters had helped Rig win significant battles in the second book. Vel, also, played a more important role in this book, joining up with Alix on her quest to find the bloodbinder. I still struggled to like Vel as a character, though she had some good moments in this book. While it made sense to pair up these two women both for the plot and due to the dynamics that come from their relationships with Rig, I think that it also had the unintended result of negatively contrasting Vel to Alix. But this is a pretty subjective viewpoint of my own, more than anything.

Due to the high stakes nature of most of the action in this book, the story definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. There were parts of it where I seriously struggled with the fact that because I was listening to an audiobook and wasn’t able to skim forward and relieve any of the tension. The author did a great job balancing her parallel viewpoints and story lines in a way that just ratcheted up the stress levels on all fronts. And, while the series as a whole is obviously set up to be a generally “feel good” read, the grim realities of war are never glossed over and there were a few tough moments. Alix, in particularly, had a rough road to travel.

And, importantly, the personal relationships between our main characters were not shunted to the side even in the midst of all of this narrative upheaval. Alix and Liam’s marriage is still new and being tested by their own insecurities. Liam and Erik are still learning what it means to be brothers, especially given the effects of Erik’s brainwashing and his lingering pain due to the death of his other brother in the first book. Rig and Vel…yeah, I cared less about this. But it was fine, too.

Ultimately, this series was a very satisfying and consistent read. All three books were strong and the characters and plotlines built steadily over the course of the series with very few stumbling blocks. I would recommend this series for fans of political/military fiction with a strong female lead more than for fantasy lovers. While the fantasy element is important to the story, it is definitely less of a focal point than the rest. This is a lesser known series, but one that I hope begins to get the recognition it deserves!

Rating 8:  A solid ending to the trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodsworn” is a newer book and isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Military Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodsworn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Emily’s Corner: “Miss Buncle’s Book”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!

15725379Book: “Miss Buncle’s Book” by D. E. Stevenson

Publishing Info: First published in 1934, republished in 2008 by Persephone books

Where Did I Get this Book: Barnes and Nobles! My husband gave me a generous book budget for my Christmas present so I promptly stocked up on all of D. E. Stevenson’s re-published novels.

Book Description: Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel … if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.

To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It’s a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle’s world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?

Review: This was my most recent pick for book club. I had seen the Miss Buncle series several times at my local Barnes and Nobles (praise be that a real life book store still exists driving distance from my house!) and couldn’t wait to read it.

I’ll be honest, the first several chapters were slow going. I was a bit worried that I’d picked a sleeper, especially after last month’s emotional selection, “My Name is Asher Lev.” But thankfully it picked up after a few short chapters.

Miss Buncle is yet another adorable old maid (you know my soft spot for them, see my The Blue Castle” review.) She is a spinster in her sleepy village, whose pre-war dividends have reduced her monthly budget to minuscule proportions. Eager to lift herself out of poverty, she attempts to write a book and produces a best-seller on her first try. The first half of her novel are thinly veiled accounts of her neighbor’s comings and goings, and in the second half she re-writes their lives doling out both poetic justice and happy endings with glee.

The result is a book that is quickly picked up by a publisher who is convinced that this is a work of satire, an opinion seized upon by the public which launches Miss Buncle into conveniently anonymous stardom. The trials of keeping her identity a secret from her alternately furious and delighted neighbors are hilarious, and involve a scheming gold-digger, the town’s charming new parson living a year of self-imposed poverty, a surprise elopement, and the kidnapping of twins!

One of my favorite characters is Miss Buncle’s publisher, a man who is delighted with both the book and its’ beguiling author, once he comes around to the idea that the satirical “John Smith” is in fact a mousy spinster who is honest to a fault and in desperate need of money. The following quote says all you need to know about him.

“What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.” 

In essence, this is a book about a book, full of thoughtful commentary on what it means to be a reader and the very thin line that exists between fact and fiction. This is exactly the kind of book you want on a sick day at home, under the covers with tea and chocolate toast.

One last observation. I was struck by the similarity in writing style to L. M. Montgomery, so I was delighted to discover the D. E. Stevenson was in fact a contemporary of Montgomery’s! If you like “Anne of Green Gables,” I can almost guarantee that you’ll adore the Miss Buncle trilogy. I have yet to read “Miss Buncle Married” or “The Two Mrs. Abbotts,” but they are next on my list!

Rating 8: Get yourself through the yawn-inducing first chapters, and you’ll be rewarded with a delightful little tale set in just the kind of English village you’ve always wanted to retire to.

Reader’s Advisory:

Funnily enough, “Miss Buncle’s Book” is included on only one Goodreads list and it is “Potential Book Club Choices.”

Find “Miss Buncle’s Book” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “Long May She Reign”

30320053Book: “Long May She Reign” by Rhiannon Thomas

Publication Info: HarperTeen, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councilors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.

Review:  Everything about this book description sounded like something that would be right up my alley. And other than a bit of confusion about the genre (fantasy?), I was not disappointed!

Freya is 20-something in line to the throne, but after a mass poisoning, somehow queenship still manages to fall on her shoulders. Now, not only does she, a natural introvert who only wants to work on her science experiments, have to figure out how to rule a country, but she needs to unravel the mystery behind the poisoning before she’s next. No killer would set out to put her on the throne, after all!

This was such a simple story, and I loved it for this very reason! Within the framework of a political drama, Freya herself is allowed to shine as the unique heroine she is. Often we’re presented with this archetypal character arc: shy wallflower through plot devices learns she’s super special and beautiful and ends the book as the bad-ass she was truly meant to be, thus shedding all of her original shyness. I’ve never liked or bought this story arc for a character. As an introvert myself, that’s just not how it works, and I’m kind of offended whenever having a quieter disposition is presented as something that must be “overcome” to become the bad-ass warrior in the end. And it has been well-documented on this blog that I love me some bad-ass women characters! But that doesn’t mean that every character should become this!

Freya’s journey is not to become a better person by the end, but to truly  appreciate that the changes she brings to the country as a different ruler with different strengths, manners, and priorities is ultimately  just what it might need. Mental health is a subject that is brought up a few times in this book, both for Freya who suffers from anxiety attacks and for another noble lady whom Freya quickly befriends who suffers from some form of depression. While neither of these subjects were tackled in any depth, neither character was demonized for the way that they chose to deal with their own mental health and the fact that they each needed to make its management a priority in their own way. For Freya, this meant the comfort of straightforward and logical scientific research.

Given this connection to Freya’s anxiety,  I appreciated that her research wasn’t simply set up in the beginning as “oh, here’s a special thing about her to make her stand apart from all the other fantasy YA heroines but doesn’t actually play any part in the story” but as an aspect of Freya’s character that is continually reinforced throughout the story. Not only does she use her knowledge and abilities to solve the mystery, but we see how she will continue to make room for this important aspect of herself as a ruler going forward. Science is her retreat and her method for calming her mind, and I loved that this was so fully embraced. Further, the characters who are important to her embrace this as well. Not only appreciating that Freya is always going to make scientific research a priority in her life and one that they will have to live aside, but actually joining her and learning from her.

These side characters were also key to my enjoyment of the novel. The cast is a manageable size, both small enough that I felt like I was able to get to know many of them well, but also large enough to hold up the mystery itself with several viable suspects. Many of them were also delightfully written in shades of grey. There are few obviously “good” characters, like Freya’s best friend from the beginning (Yay for female friendships! There were several in this book, and I loved that ultimately these relationships were given more attention than the romantic story line, which is fairly minimal, all told) and, obviously, her cat whom she adores (she risks her life to save the cat at one point which I completely understand!) But several characters on her much-reduced council are presented with their own compelling reasons for either wanting to support her rule or work quietly against it. Freya’s own father is set up as a bit of a grey character. He clearly loves his daughter, but his ambition is what lead to his rise in court from a lowly merchant, and Freya questions where this ambition could ultimately lead. With all of this, I was truly surprised by who the culprit ultimately turned out to be.

I typically try to avoid reading many other reviews for books before I write my own, but with this one I did want to see what other reviewers were doing when slotting this book in a genre. It is presented as a fantasy novel, but for the life of me I can’t really understand why. Sure, it’s set in an imaginary kingdom…but that’s it. There is no magic that is referenced, no creatures that don’t exist in our world, nothing really. And I feel like this was a bit of a failing in its marketing. This book is more a political/historical YA novel, and by setting it up as a YA fantasy (a genre that is booming beyond belief right now), I feel like a lot of readers came out of it disappointed. As I love these genres as well, I wasn’t perturbed by it. But both the description and cover make it seem like this is somehow a fantasy novel, and for readers who are mostly there for the magic and romance that is usually found in YA fantasy…you’re kind of setting the book up to fail by not targeting the correct audience. Sure, publishers want the extra bang for their buck that comes from jumping on a popular genre bandwagon, but is it worth the backlash when readers discover the truth? I never like this type of marketing tomfoolery, as I feel like this is a strong novel for what it is and that’s now being undercut due to these silly tactics.

But if you are a reader who enjoys YA political/historical novels that focus in on science rather than magic, definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: A great, character-focused political romp!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Long May She Reign” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “YA Royalty” and “Unconventional Princesses (and Princes).”

Find “Long May She Reign” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”

23164970Book: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, May 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes, so when a fire destroys everything she owns, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life – and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham City’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl…and discovers new threats preying on her peers! As the new hero of Burnside, Batgirl gets started by facing twin sister assassins on motorcycles!

Review: As the world of comics tries to keep up with the changing times and tries to keep rebooting itself, it can, admittedly, get a little confusing. I think that a really good example of this is that of DC’s Batgirl. When DC launched their “New 52” reboot series, giving many of their characters brand new origin stories, one of the new iterations was Batgirl. Gail Simone took the helm, and while there was criticism about erasing Batgirl’s disability (she’s no longer wheelchair bound, and therefore no longer Oracle), it’s pretty agreed that she did justice to Barbara Gordon. Her time with Batgirl ended, showing Barbara’s future years and years down the line. It was pretty dark stuff (no spoilers here though). But then….. Batgirl was rebooted again, even if DC claims that it wasn’t really a reboot. Now the “Batgirl” title is DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Ms. Marvel”: a bit more aimed towards teen girls, with a quirky and flawed, but endearing protagonist who has very real life problems along with the Superhero ones. I mean, just look at the cover of this book: Batgirl is taking a selfie in a hipster club bathroom.

Admittedly, when I first saw this I was like

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BUT, I decided to give it a chance because I love Barbara Gordon, and I do recognize that comics appeal to a wide array of audiences now. And I’m glad that I did decide to give it a try, because while I find “Ms. Marvel” fine and important but a but a tad precious, I think that this new Batgirl is just the right balance of aware and action-y.

Barbara has been updated to fit the modern sensibilities of a brainy girl who likes to code and do STEM things. While I’m still a bit bitter that she hasn’t quite taken on the librarian mantle (though I think she eventually does go to get her MLIS!), I love seeing her tackle computer science and code writing, and I LOVE seeing it treated as just something that she does because why wouldn’t she? Not only is Barbara a badass lady coder, so is her roommate Frankie. I really liked the introduction of Frankie (though I wish that Alysia Yeoh could have been another roommate, because I love her to death), as she added a new voice of reason along with adding some much needed diversity to the DC Universe. In fact, a lot of the new faces in “Batgirl” add quite a bit of diversity, not unlike that which you WOULD see in Brooklyn these says (as Burnside is the Brooklyn to Gotham’s Manhattan). So not only do we have an empowered and positive role model of a young woman who is adept at science, she surrounds herself with people from all different backgrounds and experiences. Every character feels real and grounded and not just thrown in for the sake of having a token Muslim, or trans woman, or African American, or etcetera.

Even the villains and the danger scenarios feel like they fit a modern aesthetic without seeming overwrought. One of the first people Batgirl goes up against is an Internet wizard who has been giving out his digital blackmail services to people, willing to ruin lives for a price and a profit. Given how revenge porn is certainly a problem that society hasn’t quite figured out how to wrap it’s head around in many ways, this felt like a pretty relevant threat. Sure, Babs may not be fighting crazed supervillains like the Joker, but villains based in real life awfulness are a-okay with me. And it’s done in such a way that it never feels like it’s being spoon fed to the reader. You don’t need a known and super big bad guy like Joker or Penguin to be behind these realistic maladies, because that just doesn’t feel genuine. Along with the villains, one of the biggest obstacles Barbara has to face is the trauma she is still feeling from when Joker attacked her. You see flashbacks of when she was in recovery, and how dark and damaged her mind went, focused on the past and revenge instead of healing and the future. While I am a staunch defender of the original story of her becoming wheelchair bound, as Oracle became arguably the MOST powerful member within the Bat Family and her wheelchair provided representation to a group that is overlooked, I think that this series has done a good job of addressing the long term mental affects of it all. It’s a shame that they’ve erased that side of Barbara, but now they are tackling the story of a woman who is living with PTSD. I won’t say tit for tat, but I will say that it’s not nothing.

And there are familiar faces as well! My girl Dinah Lance is involved in this first arc, there to provide a needed level of snark, but also to remind Batgirl of her duties and not to let things get out of her control. I am pretty sure this was the predecessor to the “Black Canary” comic that I liked so much (note to self…. get your hands on the next one), and her angst and rough edges are on display in their full glory. She is also there to make sure that Babs, while the selfie and social media culture is fine and part of our lives now, doesn’t lose her endgame all because she loves the likes and tweets. The old school mentality of comics and superheroes in the context of Batgirl still has relevancy, and her reboot is blending well with her origins.

And the art is really fun in this one. It’s very colorful, not as dark and dour as the Gail Simone story that preceded it.

batgirl_38
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I am very pleased with the new life that Batgirl has been given with “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”. Barbara has been given a new lease on life and I am very happy with where she’s going with it!

Rating 8: A fun reboot of the Batgirl series, with a strong and varied cast of characters and a good hold on how to write Barbara Gordon for today’s world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of DC”, and “Ladies in Capes”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Final Girls”

32994321Book: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Subterranean Press, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears?

Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

I quite enjoy the “Newsflesh” Trilogy by Mira Grant. For one, it has zombies, which is almost always going to be something of a plus for me when it comes to my horror novels. But it’s also a pretty unique and tech based take of life after the zombie plague. So when Serena sent me some information about a new short story of Grant’s, called “Final Girls”, I was immediately intrigued. Grant likes to take common tropes and give them a tech-y spin. While sometimes I’m a little skeptical of short stories, just because so much has to be crammed into them in a smaller amount of pages to really pull them off, I had faith that Grant could do it. And she didn’t disappoint.

Even though this is a shorter piece, Grant did a really good job of describing the place and time without any of it feeling rushed. The time frame is kind of vague, but we do know that technology allows us to fall into a holodeck-like virtual reality where we can work through various emotional hang ups or relationships. The science is kept nondescript enough not to be bogged down by the science that may or may not ever come to fruition in this world, but it is detailed enough that it seems like it could feasibly happen in the nearish future. She also did a good job of establishing the main characters and their motivations, so I was never questioning why they did the things that they did. I could understand why Dr. Webb is so invested in her invention, and why she would have her whole faith in it and never question how it could go wrong. She is both brilliant and arrogant, cold yet empathetic. Esther, too, is someone whose motivations we can understand, even if her background is presented quickly and never hammered at over and over again. I think that the weakest characterization was that of the mysterious ‘assassin’ character, who drives the conflict of the story with her dangerous meddling. I understand why she would be doing the things she’s doing, but I think that had we explored more about the people who hired her, maybe I would have been more fully invested in her. As she was, she was just kind of the cold badass character. It works well in this story, though, so I can’t really complain about it too much.

I also liked the moral and ethical implications and questions this book raised. There are so many grey areas within the scientific world, and how far we can push experiments without treading on the rights of human and animal subjects. Even if there wasn’t a psychopathic assassin messing up a program and making it super dangerous (due to the stress levels and possibility to be scared to death), how ethical is it to put people in a terribly stressful situation in the name of therapy and relationship healing?

Also…. Zombies.

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My reaction to a well done zombie story. (source)

While sure, it may seem a bit old hat to bring zombies into this story given the “Newsflesh” series and everything, Grant is just so good at it that I don’t really mind. I’m not sick of zombies yet, so when this was the simulation I just grinned and leaned back, ready to enjoy it.

It’s a bit more than the usual zombie story, and “Final Girls” was a quick and engaging story that built up the suspense and delivered on the chills. But it also goes beyond the usual fare, and brings up good points about the responsibilities of science. It was a fun little read and I recommend it to zombie fans to be certain!

Rating 8: A quick paced and creepy little horror novella that raises questions about ethics and professional responsibility.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is a fairly new novella and isn’t on many lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Technothrillers and Sci-Fi”, and “Zombies Plus: Unconventional Zombie Novels”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories”

We 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 Short Story Collection” 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! 

24561496Book: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” by Ellen Oh (Editor)

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Kate’s Thoughts

The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is one that I have been following for a bit now. Basically, it’s goal is to promote, publish, and highlight books by diverse authors, and tell stories of many different viewpoints and experiences, especially in children’s and young adult literature. When our dear friend and fellow librarian Alicia picked the short stories collection “Flying Lessons” for our book club, I threw it on my request list and got it almost immediately. I also happened to read it during the first attempt this administration made on implementing a travel ban into this country. So yeah, this felt like a very pertinent read, especially since the hope is that diverse books will build empathy to other experiences.

Like most short stories collection, it had some highs and lows. But luckily, it was mostly highs! I really liked the varied authors that contributed to this, and how they all offered so many different kinds of stories without feeling like a box was getting checked off. I expected no less from Ellen Oh, one of the instrumental members of We Need Diverse Books. I will focus on my two favorites.

“Sol Painting, Inc” by Meg Medina: I love the other books by Medina that I’ve read (“Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”; “Burn, Baby, Burn”), and I was very excited to see that she had a story in this collection. She does a great job of showing one snippet of a day in the life of Merci, Roli, and Mr. Sol, who are Latinx and have a family painting business. While Mr. Sol and and younger sister Merci really love this business, so much so that Merci wants to open her own home improvement empire someday, the elder brother, Roli, is starting to feel embarrassed by it, and would prefer to focus on science things. Medina does a great job of showing the discomfort that Roli has surrounded by his very white peers in a very white space when they go to paint the high school gym, in exchange for tuition for Merci. This story also feels very real in Merci’s voice, as she is the narrator. She doesn’t understand her brother’s self loathing or her father’s self sacrificing. This is probably the saddest story in the bunch, but it was my favorite.

“The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin: Lin takes us back in time to long ago China. It follows the story of Lingsi, a servant girl who is also educated, as it was her mother’s dying wish and her mistress, fearful of being cursed with bad luck, agreed. Lingsi and her house are traveling to try and find a wife for the only son of the family, a cruel and idiotic lout. But as they are traveling, they are attacked by pirates, and Lingsi finds herself in a very surprising situation. I loved Lin’s story telling in this one, as I could totally see everything and hear everything with perfect clarity. It was also neat seeing a surprising feminist twist within this story. No spoilers here. But let’s just say that there is a history of female pirates during this time period. This story was fun and definitely satisfying.

I really liked “Flying Lessons”, and I think that it’s a great collection of short stories that all kids will love.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m always a bit hesitant about short story collections for a few reasons. First is the same reason that Kate laid out earlier and is true to a certain extent with this one: there can be a variety in quality from one story to another which can be an off-putting reading experience. Secondly, writing a short story is a completely different beast than writing a novel, a fact that I think many authors tend to forget and that then leads to questionable short story collections. Publishers simply paste all the big author names together on one title and think it’s a clear win, with no understanding that many of the skills and traits that make an author successful as a novelist may not carry over to a short story collection.

So, with all of this in mind, I was hesitant about this book, especially as it was often marketed and sold on the fame of the authors’ works it included. But, while there were a few misses, I was happy with the collection as a hole and there were a few stories that particularly stuck out. Kate already discussed two of my favorites, but I’ll throw in a third.

“The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist: This story follows Isaiah Dunn, a young boy coping with the death of his father and with his mother’s subsequent fall into alcoholism. Just with that short description, you know going in that this was one of the heavier titles in the book. But this story was so incredibly powerful for it! Grief itself is a huge subject, but the story also touches on so many other factors that all get swirled together in a the life-changing impact that comes with the loss of a parent. The trying economic situation of the family, the mother’s coping method, and the hope that can be found amidst it all is beautifully illustrated in this tale. I particularly appreciated the rather meta use of the power of stories that is brought to being in this story after Isaiah finds a old book of his father’s stories. Isaiah’s voice is also particularly strong, effectively portraying the innocence of childhood but never short-changing his ability to deeply understand the world around him.

As Kate said, there were a few weaker stories included, but even these would likely be well-received by the middle grade target audience of this book. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection and its ability to tell important stories without falling under the weight of too much “agenda.”

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun, touching, and varied collection of stories from some of the best children’s and YA authors out there.

Serena’s Rating 8: What else should we have expected from this strong collection of children’s/YA authors? Its strength lies largely in the variety of stories included, both in tone and subject matter.

Book Club Questions:

1.) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2.) Were there any stories that didn’t work for you as well?

3.) This book sets out to present a very diverse collection of stories. Are there any perspectives that you felt were missing?

4.) Were you familiar with any of these authors before? Did any of them have particular writing strengths that appealed to you?

5.) A lot of thought goes into the order in which stories are arrange din a short story collection. Were there any changes you would make to this line up and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flying Lessons and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”, and “YA Short Stories and Collections”.

Find “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!