Serena’s Review: “My Plain Jane”

363010231Book: “My Plain Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Previously reviewed: “My Lady Jane”

Review: I picked up the first book in this series (?) pretty much on a self dare: how could the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey  somehow be turned into a fantasy/comedy YA story and NOT be terrible? Well, I was definitely proven wrong, so when I saw this book coming out, I did nothing more than glance at it, see that it was somehow a Jane Eyre retelling, and instantly request it. Seriously, I didn’t even read the actual book description, because I was surprised as heck that there were two other narrators when I actually started reading, even though it states it right there in the blurb. Anyways, long story short, I loved this book.

Jane Eyre is working as a teacher at the orphanage/school where she was raised, alongside her friend Charlotte Bronte. Their quiet, but not so happy, lives are interrupted with the arrival of ghost hunter extraordinaire, Alexander Blackwell, who sees in Jane a powerful addition to the supernatural services organization for which he works. Jane doesn’t see it the same way and flees to be a certain governess at a certain dark and creepy house with a certain brooding gentleman in residence. Charlotte, on the other hand, is all too willing to prove that she, too, has what it takes to hunt ghosts and gets herself involved, like all good heroines do.

It’s really hard to blurb this book as so much of the plot is caught up in the twists that the authors are constantly lobbing into what is a very well known classic tale of tragic love. And man, I don’t want to ruin the surprises that are in store! In many ways, I enjoyed this book even more than the first book. Other than her terrible end, I didn’t really know anything about the history behind the original Lady Jane Grey and, from what I do know, the story veered from that path pretty early on to allow for our leading lady to have a proactive role, rather than sitting alone and doomed on a throne for a few days.

But here, I am very familiar with the original plot line of “Jane Eyre” so watching the story unfold in a completely unexpected way, artfully tying in characters and events that mirror those from the original but who show up and do things that I would never have guessed was an utter delight. For all that we gain two additional characters, one of whom is the author of the original book in question, it was truly impressive how closely these authors managed to tie it all together with that story. They also neatly explored some of the criticisms that can be thrown at the door of the original, as well.

As characters go, I actually ended up enjoying Charlotte and Alexander more than Jane herself. Charlotte has the go-getter gumption that I like in my leading ladies, and Alexander was appropriately put off but also endeared by her, which I like in my romantic heroes. This all left poor Jane to still have to fulfill the role of the one who falls in love with the very brooding, slightly suspicious Mr. Rochester. Yes, things don’t all turn out as they do in the book, but given the dueling goals of retelling the story while also criticizing some of the peculiarities of its romance, this left Jane in the awkward position of having to mimic some of the foibles (at least they are presented as foibles in this view of the story) of the original Jane as well. But, don’t get me wrong, the book takes a massive turn halfway through the story, and in the latter half Jane gives it as good as she got.

I’m sure this was true of the first book as well, but what stood out to me the most in this one was the bunches of fun I was having simply spotting references to other pop culture memes and moments. I know that “Ready Player One” has come under a lot of fire (I don’t think deserved, save it for the second book!) for being nothing but a loose plot full of 80s references. And while I had fun with that book and those nods, I’m not a pop culture aficionado like Kate, especially not about the 80s, so I’m sure I missed the majority of the more subtle Easter eggs.  Not so here! These are the kind of references that I can get behind. We have “The Princess Bride,” “Harry Potter, ” “Ghostbusters,” “Lord of the Rings” and so many more! They were everywhere, and what made this even better was how artfully they were sewn into the story itself. It never felt like they were shoehorned in, but instead each reference came about in a natural and often very subtle way.

I again loved the way that the authors wove supernatural events into this story. Yes, it’s probably a bit easier to sell a ghost story with actual ghosts for “Jane Eyre” than shapeshifters in a real historical event like with the first book, but there are still a million ways this thing could have gotten away from them. Instead, the entire production felt tightly controlled and masterfully directed the entire time. The characters each had distinct and interesting character arcs, the magic was well thought out and integral to the story itself, and the original “Jane Eyre” was deftly retold and lampooned at the same time. I zipped through this book in one day! If you enjoyed “My Lady Jane” or are up for a good comedy version of “Jane Eyre,” than I definitely recommend checking out “My Plain Jane.”

Rating 9: Adding comedy, magic, and bucket loads of literary references only improves this retelling of “Jane Eyre.”

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Plain Jane” is on these Goodreads lists: “Derivatives of Jane Eyre” and “Brontës in Fiction.”

Find “My Plain Jane” at the library using Worldcat!

 

Book Club Review: “Six of Crows”

23006119We 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 “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

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

Book: “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo

Publishing Info: Henry Holt and Company, September 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library

A-Side Book: “Shadow and Bone”

Book Description: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Serena’s Thoughts

This book is probably one of the perfect diverging points for Kate and my own differing book tastes. I’m pretty sure that everything I love about these genres are the same things that turn off Kate, so be ready for some whiplash in our opinions!

It’s no secret that I love fantasy. Pretty much any fantasy, but high fantasy (rather than, say, urban fantasy) is definitely my preferred type. After all, that’s the primary genre that I cover on this blog. But I also love heist stories. I don’t read many heist books, because frankly most of the ones I’ve tried fall into the worst category of “beach reads” where the writing and plotting is so simplistic that I just can’t acknowledge it as worth my time to read. But I do love heist movies (though even I have my doubts about this new “Oceans 11” reboot…). So reading this book description, I was all over this!

I did have a few points of hesitancy, however, going in. I don’t typically prefer books with multiple narrators, let alone five. And I’ve been burned by Bardugo in the past. While I liked the first book in her “Grisha” series, my rage boiled over in the second and I don’t think I even finished the third. So, I was excited, but hesitant.

All for nothing! I had a blast with this book! Set in the same world and a few years (?) after the events in the last book of the “Grisha” trilogy, our team is made up of a ragtag group of individuals all with complicated pasts and motivations that lead them to be involved in what everyone says is an impossible mission.

I very much enjoyed the world building in this story. It’s been a few years since I read the other two books, but for the most part this world and history is presented in such a way that prior knowledge of it was not necessary. If anything, I think my half reading of the first trilogy almost made it worse, as I could sort of remember things here and there and was never quite sure whether something new was being introduced or whether I should be remembering it from before. In that respect, it might even be easier to read this book with zero knowledge of the original trilogy. All of that said, this story takes place in two new and distinct locations: the gang-riddled streets of Ketterdam and the Ice Court where the people of the north capture and exterminate Grisha, as they see their magic as contrary to the natural world. Bardugo does an excellent job in painting clear and brilliant scenes on which to work her stories. I particularly liked the Ice Court itself, and the complex inner workings that the team had to overcome to break in and out.

As for the characters, Bardugo masterfully juggled a very full cast, somehow managing to weave together a very action-packed story while also slowly revealing the complicated and often dark histories of each individual character on this journey. I had a few favorites, but I ultimately enjoyed them all. I would say that Jesper was probably my least favorite, due to the fact that he had the least developed back story of the group and, for plot reasons, had to be kept in the dark about certain events. I enjoyed Inej the most, as her character type (silent, deadly, masterfully proficient at what she does best) is one of my favorites. But I think that Nina and Matthias, as a pair, had the most compelling journey in this story. Raised in very different cultures and with very different views on the world, they both have to confront prejudices and the darker side of their own beings.

I had a few quibbles of plausibility here and there, as far as the heist itself goes. But for the most part, I was having such a blast that I didn’t have time to pause and really think about the viability of some of their more outrageous plans. Bardugo is particularly effective with her dialogue, and with a cast of 6+ characters, there were ample opportunities for this strength to shine and overcast any weaker plot points. Over all, I greatly enjoyed this book and have the second one sitting on my shelf ready to read!

Kate’s Thoughts

Say it with me folks: I don’t like heist stories, I don’t like high fantasy, and while I read “Shadow and Bone” in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, I didn’t particularly care for it and never went back to that trilogy. So yeah, going into “Six of Crows” I wasn’t terribly stoked. But I like to think that I’m a good sport and something of a trooper, and given that I really liked other works by Bardugo (specifically “Wonder Woman: Warbringer”, and the short story “Verse Chorus Verse”), I had a little bit of hope that I would enjoy at least parts of it.

Turns out I was right on both counts. So, yay?

For not liking heists or high fantasy, there were plenty of things that I did find likable in this book. As Serena mentioned, Bardugo has a knack for world building, and while I remember very little from her Grishaverse I greatly enjoyed seeing aspects of it popping up in this book, even if it was in a different time and place. The Dutch influence in Ketterdam is a fun thing to watch as well, with references to various familiar landmark types and certain words clearly being derived from the Dutch language. Bardugo has a clear world idea, and in some ways she expands upon it in this book (as far as I know) with how Grishas (or witches) are viewed, and how this society functions in a more poverty stricken and corrupt society.

Bardugo also has a talent for characterization and dialog, and I ended up really enjoying a number of the characters. While in book club the solid consensus seemed to list Inej as a favorite, I myself greatly, GREATLY enjoyed Nina and her morally grey, duplicitous yet empathetic ways. Like Serena I was quite intrigued by her relationship with Matthias, and how they both have a deep connection but deep resentment and mistrust because of past actions. Whenever the story was focused on her, it had my rapt attention.

But, at the end of the day, Serena knows me very well: “Six of Crows” manages to run with a number of story themes that I don’t care for, mostly heists and high fantasy. And because of that, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, and as much as others have. I am not a good judge for how good this story is because this is not a book that was written with me in mind, and it’s not quite strong enough (outside of a few aspects I did like) to rise above my preferences and prove me wrong. It’s no one’s fault. It just didn’t do it for me as a whole.

Serena’s Rating 9: Strong dialogue and a great cast of characters added to what was already a thrilling heist story.

Kate’s Rating 6: While the characters compelled me and the dialog was snappy, the story line and themes didn’t interest me.

Book Club Questions:

  1. This story is set in the same world as Bardugo’s original “Grisha” trilogy. How did reading that trilogy before (or not reading it) affect your experience with this book?
  2. This book is made up of a large cast of characters. Which ones stood out to you as particularly interesting? Were there any that you felt less connected to?
  3. Through Nina and Matthias’s story arc, this book confronts some challenging themes regarding prejudice and persecution. What moments stood out to you in this area? Do you think this could have been explored even further?
  4. The heist itself is made up of several moving pieces and changed throughout the story. Did any parts of it strike you as particularly surprising or fun to read about? Did you have questions about any parts of it?
  5. There are a lot of surprises revealed throughout the story. Which ones took you by surprise and which ones could you predict?
  6. The story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Where do you think it will go from here?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Six of Crows” is on these Goodreads lists: “Villain Protagonist” and “Speculative Fiction Heist/Caper Stories.”

Find “Six of Crows” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Pick: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

 

Serena’s Review: “Whisper on the Tide”

345195361Book: “Whisper on the Tide” by Sarah Tolscer

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Caro Oresteia spent her life waiting to be called by the river god, as those in her family had been for generations. But when she’s swept away on an adventure to save the Akhaian royal prince, Markos, her destiny is sealed by the sea god instead.

For now, Caro is landlocked, helping Markos reclaim his throne after nearly his entire family was assassinated in a political coup. Without any financial or military support, Markos is desperate for allies, and Caro has fought off more than one attempt on his life. When a powerful Archon offers his army in exchange for Markos’s marriage to his daughter, Caro must choose: Her love for Markos, or the fate of Akhaia? And more importantly: How much is she willing to risk to defy the sea god’s wishes and chart her own course? 

With shipwrecks, lost treasure, old and new enemies, dark magic, and breathtaking romance, Sarah Tolcser weaves another epic story about chasing your fate.

Previously reviewed: “Song of the Current”

Review: Remember a time, not so long ago, when “Pirates of the Caribbean” was actually acclaimed and not a national joke? I mean, those first few movies were a blast! I may, may,  have even seen the first one in theaters three times. I remember being almost giddy over just how much unadulterated, unquestioned fun that first movie was offering up. Adventure! Romance! Great characters! And some top notch humor that the other films never seemed to really understand or replicate in all the many, MANY, iterations that followed. So you can imagine just how thrilled I was when I discovered about halfway through this book, that “Whisper on the Tide” was essentially what you’d get if you took that first movie and then took Kiera Knightley’s character from the third movie, but actually made her, you know, a good character and had her run the show.

While Caro has finally discovered her true calling, with the goddess of the ocean in her ear and a ship to her name, her time of late has been spent decidedly NOT at sea. After pledging herself to help Markos regain his lost throne, she’s recently discovered that much of what this help is made up of is running a few messages here and there and sitting through various speeches and rallies while Markos looks to drum up support for his cause. And all is not going well. The ocean god is displeased with Caro’s lack of sea time adventures and Markos few followers are pushing towards a marriage of convenience that would bring in much needed support. Caro has more and more difficulty seeing a path forward that allows her to keep both of her loves, the sea and Markos himself.

For all that the description of the story, both mine and the official one, puts a lot of weight on Caro’s decision about her future, part of what has made me like this series so much so far is Caro’s no nonsense approach to life and decision making. She doesn’t wilt away from tough choices and she is endlessly practical. In many ways, she sees her ability to make hard calls as her biggest asset to Markos, whom she often derides as getting too caught up in the emotions of things. Here, these character traits move the story along and keep it from being marred in the emotional duldrums of soap opera-ness that could have come about with a different character in this situation. But what makes it all the better is that through this book, Caro must learn that her own practicality and willingness to follow the harder path is not always a boon.

In short order, she’s back out on the ocean and beginning to understand how very little she knows of life as a sea captain, for all that she has her own ship and the ear of the sea goddess. The action never lets up and Caro’s adventures are filled with everything you’d want from a pirate adventure. We have storms, and ships sinking, and maroonings on islands, and lost treasure, and pirate lairs. Really, like I said at the beginning, all the best parts of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, though each with their own unique spin and connection to the larger plot.

For secondary characters, we sadly saw much less of not only Markos, but Caro’s magic-wielding cousin, Kente, was also out of commission much of the time. But what we did get from her was integral to the plot, and I liked the the fact that she had a role at all, as with the way the last book ended, I wasn’t sure we were going to see more from her. Markos, also, was abscenfor much of the middle portion of the book. I was ok with this. I still very much enjoyed the romance between him and Caro, and their banter and Markos’ own cluelessness about certain things were still some of the most fun pieces of dialogue in the story. However, by sidelining him and their romantic entanglements, Caro was given the space and time to really come into her own as a character and drive the plot on her own.

This also gave room to add a surprising new (?) character who I had not expected to see at all. I don’t want to spoil it, but I thoroughly enjoyed this addition and the character added a much needed sense of ambiguity and moral greyness to an otherwise fairly straightforward adventure story. To continue the “Pirates” compariosons, if Caro is Elizabeth and Markos is Will, this new character was Jack Sparrow and lived up to the utter delight that any character should be if trying to fill that role.

I also greatly enjoyed the expanded idea of Caro’s relationship with the sea god. While we heard a lot about the river god and the solid, calm prescense that he transferred to those who were chosen by him, we only briefly met the sea god in the last book. And true to the nature of the sea, she is much more volatile and unpredictable than the god of the river seemed to be. I was relived that she wasn’t reduced to just another magical ability for Caro, but given her own agendas and whims that often came into conflict with Caro’s. Their ongoing battle of wills was a large secondary driver of much of the story and I was very pleased with how it played out.

In the end, I enjoyed this book even more than the first. While “Song of the Current” had a slow start, this one jumped right into the action and never let off the gas pedal. Caro was her same sassy self, but was given more room to proactively drive the plot herself this go around. I still very much enjoyed the romance, but was pleased to see that it played second fiddle to the action and adventure. And between the ocean god and the surprise Jack Sparow-esque character, there was enough double crossing and cross purposes to keep readers on their toes about what would be coming next. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m sure you’ll love this one!

Rating 9: Take all the good parts of the “Pirates” movies, make them even better, and turn it into a book and ta da!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper on the Tide” is a new title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Teen Pirate Books.”

Find “Song of the Current” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bruja Born”

33918887Book: “Bruja Born” by Zoraida Córdova

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, June 2018

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

Book Description: Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

Review: I first want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC to this book!

Awhile back I read the book “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova, a fantasy novel that took some influence from “Alice In Wonderland”. I remember liking the characters in it for the most part (well, mostly Alex, our teen witch protagonist), but having a harder time with the fantasy world setting that she found herself in. Look, I have lots of opinions about “Alice in Wonderland,” as you guys know, and that one didn’t really live up to my very high expectations. But I liked Alex and her family enough that I told myself I’d continue in the series, so when I saw that “Bruja Born” was on the way I requested a copy from NetGalley, thinking I had little to lose. But I have great news. If “Labyrinth Lost” has similarities to “Alice in Wonderland,” “Bruja Born” also has a book to which it has similar themes and concepts. And that book is “Pet Sematary”.

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Words that we should all take to heart. Especially if we live on cursed soil in Maine. (source)

The whimsical and dreamy fantasy setting from the first book has gone out the window, and Córdova has taken us straight into dark fantasy/horror for the second book of her “Brooklyn Brujas” series. And this is where, for me, the series has spread it wings and flown high, because THIS is the kind of book I was waiting for. This time, our main character is Lula, Alex’s older sister who was one of those who was in need of rescue in book one. Her emotional and physical scars from her time in Los Lagos have really weighed her down, and she has changed from popular and bubbly extrovert to sullen and bitter killjoy. I was really happy to see that we got to focus on her this time, as while I liked Alex I liked having a new character to explore. And Lula was so flawed and complex, more so than Alex, and getting to know her (as well as Rose, their youngest sister) made this book all the more rich. In fact, this book gave us a better grasp on all of the family members, and world building exploded and really sucked me in. Lula’s relationships, be it with her sisters or her mother or Maks as he becomes the living dead due to a spell that was cast, felt deeper and more rewarding this time around. I also really have to give Córdova props because while I found Lula to be really hard to take at times, I TOTALLY understood the choices that she made and believed every single one of them. And her romance with Maks is so, so emotional and tragic, as you know that it is doomed once he becomes more and more in tune with the undead side of him. But his emotions and feelings and memories are still there, and we have to slowly watch him fall away, and watch Lula potentially lose him all over again. Man was it painful and an emotional rollercoaster, and I, of course, was living for all the agony it was causing me.

The stakes have grown exponentially in this one as well. While those in danger in “Labyrinth Lost” was limited to the Mortiz family alone (which are high stakes for them, of course), the threat of an undead horde threatens all of New York City after the Mortiz Sister’s healing/resurrection spell goes terribly wrong. We get to see how the magical systems within the book not only affect the characters, but how they could potentially affect the world that they live in. There was a lot of loss in this book, loss that actually caught me off guard. This book goes dark, far darker than “Labyrinth Lost”, but I think that it is richer for it. Córdova also brings in concepts from her other stories outside of the “Brooklyn Brujas”, and fits them into this world and the Bruja culture seamlessly. When we find out that this world is not limited to witches, Córdova opens up a world of possibilities that I cannot wait to see her explore as the series goes on. This series has officially gone from ‘yeah, I guess I will go on with it’ to ‘OKAY SERIOUSLY WHEN DOES THE NEXT ONE COME OUT?!’, and now looking at both “Labyrinth Lost” and “Bruja Born” as two parts to the same whole, I’ve gained more appreciation for the former. The stories are very complementary, and the next one, almost assuredly following the youngest sister Rose, can only strengthen it more.

If you like teen horror and an emotional chaser to your terror, “Bruja Born” is definitely a book that you need to pick up. You do need to read “Labyrinth Lost” before going into this story, but given that I have a feeling that the “Brooklyn Brujas” series is going to be VERY strong overall, you’ll be glad that you did. And now seriously, when does the next one come out?

Rating 9: A solid dark fantasy that borders towards horror, “Bruja Born” brings the Mortiz Family into their own and expands into complex and deeply satisfying world building and magical systems.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bruja Born” is included on the Goodreads lists “Latinx MG/YA Speculative Fiction”, and “#OwnVoices Novels of 2018”.

Find “Bruja Born” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Onyx and Ivory”

34739766Book: “Onyx and Ivory” by Mindee Arnett

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

The high king’s second son, Corwin Tormane, never asked to lead. Even as he waits for the uror—the once-in-a-generation ritual to decide which of the king’s children will succeed him—he knows it’s always been his brother who will assume the throne. And that’s fine by him. He’d rather spend his days away from the palace, away from the sight of his father, broken with sickness from the attempt on his life.

With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin have to put the past behind them. The threat of drakes who attack in the daylight is only the beginning of a darker menace stirring in the kingdom—one whose origins have dire implications for Kate’s father’s attack upon the king and will thrust them into the middle of a brewing civil war in the kingdom of Rime.

Review: This is another book that I requested primarily based on the beautiful cover art. Another win for the “no models on covers” team! I was also intrigued by the dueling narratives, though I think I generally tend to be a reader who prefers only one POV. But, if done right, I’ve loved alternating narrators in the past, and I was hopeful for this one. Plus, I’m always there for any fantasy story that involves animal magic!

Kate is living a life in hiding. After her father was executed for attempting to murder his good friend, the king, Kate’s life fell to pieces. Where once she had a best friend and burgeoning love in Prince Corwin, now she has only estrangement and bitterness at his failure to stand up for her and her father. Her cozy life working alongside her father in the palace stables has turned to one fraught with danger and hard work as she tries to support herself as a mail carrier in a land full of dangerous beasts that kill any out after dark. All of this while she tried to hide her magical ability to influence animals from the inquisitionists roaming the realm looking to round up and dispose of those like her.

Corwin’s life, too, is not what he once believed it would be. After years in self-imposed exile, he has returned to a country that doesn’t seem to need him, being well run by his brother in his ailing father’s place. But when strange attacks begin to happen in daylight, Corwin and Kate find there paths crossing again, as they both strive against dark forces at work in the kingdom.

Both Kate and Corwin were strong narrators with compelling arcs of their own, plus the storyline of their re-building relationship. Kate’s magic was intriguing and throughout the story, we learn alongside her what she is truly capable of. What’s more, her story is an interesting take on persecution and privilege. Up to this point, Kate has been comfortable enough hiding her magic. She has believed the stories she has been told about the dangers of her magic and that of others like her. So, while she lives in fear of being caught, she hasn’t had to truly confront what life is like for those who didn’t grow up in a palace, free from suspicion primarily because of position. Throughout the story, Kate witnesses the harsh realities of what this type of persecution, based on nothing more than fear, is like for those who have not had this type of shield. Once she is thrown back into life alongside those in power, she begins to see that her role can no longer be that of a passive player, content to use her powers in secret and live a quiet life.

Corwin’s story is fraught with insecurity and doubt. His self-esteem and self-respect have been poisoned by regret over his lost relationship with Kate and his perceived failures of her and of his country. The story introduces an intriguing concept with a sort of test that historically has been signaled by the arrival of a two-toned animal. This test determines which heir will inherit the throne. In his early 20s, the time is well past when this sign should have arrived and Corwin sees this as confirmation of his own failures. When the sign finally does arrive, Corwin must learn to accept his own strengths and make his own choices.

I also very much enjoyed the romance between these two characters. This isn’t first love, as that happened earlier in each of their lives only to be cut short by the trauma of Kate’s father’s betrayal of Corwin’s father. So when they are forced back to each other, their is doubt, hurt, and betrayal that must be dealt with. Beyond this is the understanding that Kate, the daughter of a traitor, will never be considered a worthy consort for a would-be king. What’s more, they each have secrets: Kate’s own magic, which she fears to reveal to Corwin whose own mother was killed by an out-of-control magic wielder; and Corwin’s lost years which clearly added to the self-doubt he feels with regards to himself.

The world-building and magic system were fairly standard, but I didn’t really see this as a down side. I very much enjoyed the magical creatures who descriptions were terrifying and whose presence and limitations based on day and night clearly shaped much of what goes on in this kingdom. I particularly liked the magical system set up for the process of inheritance. It was a unique concept and the trials themselves were exciting. The villain was also quite good. There were numerous red herrings and the motivations and methods of said villain were also a good reveal.

Overall, I had a blast reading this book. I was able to slip quickly and easily into this world. I cared about both Kate and Corwin’s stories separately, and was invested in their relationship as a couple. My only criticism comes with the ending. There’s this great battle scene full of magic, fighting, and sufficient stakes, and then it kind of just…ends. I was reading an ebook version, so maybe I was just caught by surprise more than I would have been had it been a physical book, but things did feel as if they got wrapped up fairly quickly. I’m also assuming there is going to be a sequel, though I haven’t seem mention of that anywhere! All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a fairly standard fantasy, but the strength of its two narrators and the solid romance kicked it up pretty high on my own personal rating scale.

Rating 9: Two main characters whom you can’t help but root for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Onyx and Ivory” is a new title, so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Multiple POV Fantasy Books.”

Find “Onyx and Ivory” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”

35068432Book: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara

Publishing Info: Harper, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionA masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

Review: I woke up on April 25th to a story I never thought, but I had long hoped, to see: there was an arrest in the Golden State Killer case. The Golden State Killer (GSK), aka The East Area Rapist (EARS) or The Original Night Stalker (ONS), was suspected of fifty rapes, a dozen murders, and more than 100 burglaries, all committed in California over the course of a few decades, and it was long thought that he wouldn’t be caught. As a huge true crime fan, I knew this case fairly well, thanks two big factors. The first was the podcast “My Favorite Murder”, and that led to the second: the book “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” by Michelle McNamara. McNamara was a true crime writer with the blog “True Crime Diary”, and had been doggedly pursuing The Golden State Killer (a phrase she created) at the time of her tragic death in 2016. Earlier this year “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” was released, in part to Bill Jensen, a co-investigator and investigative journalist in his own right. So when an arrest was made, the news spread like wildfire, and while the police were reluctant to give McNamara any credit outside of raising awareness, many think that that very awareness (starting with her blog and various articles she wrote) was vital to putting pressure on, which in turn led to an arrest. I read “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” before Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer and seventy two year old man, was arrested for the crimes. But now that he has been, I want to shine a light on this great book, especially since the story has finally found some closure.

What stands out immediately about this book is how personal it is. While McNamara herself didn’t know anyone who was hurt or killed by GSK/EAR/ONS, an unsolved murder of a childhood neighbor always stuck with her throughout her life. As she started to learn about The Golden State Killer, she began to feel a deep sense of injustice for the victims that he left behind, and started to investigate it herself. She made connections with investigators, she dove into online groups of fellow armchair investigators, she visited locations and dug through box after box of evidence. Her almost obsessive commitment to this case is juxtaposed with the crimes themselves, and the horror that GSK/EAR/ONS brought upon his victims. But she is always sure to be respectful, and to keep the details vague enough to be respectful, but precise enough to paint a picture of just how awful these crimes were. She gives voice and context for the people that GSK/EAR/ONS raped or murdered, and always puts them at the forefront and the fact that justice eluded them and those they left behind for so long. In many true crime books (with a few exceptions, of course, like Ann Rule) the focus is primarily on the murderer, and the victims merely objects in a salacious story. But with McNamara, she wants the reader to know the victims and makes their voices the most important ones. Would this be different had DeAngelo been identified at publishing? Possibly. But I do get the sense that for McNamara, the identity was only important for justice purposes; this wouldn’t have been a story to give him any glory or to make his crimes entertainment.

As you read, McNamara instills actual terror into you. I had to stop reading this book after dark, because any noise and anything out of place sent me into a paranoid spiral. Her writing is that immersive, pulling you in and keeping you engaged. She also makes herself vulnerable by being fully aware and honest with her own obsession, and the toll that it takes on her life and her own mental health. Unlike the book that Robert Graysmith wrote about The Zodiac Killer, McNamara knew that she was treading towards obsession, and that it was deeply affecting her life. The sad fact of the matter is that when Michelle died unexpectedly in her sleep, she could have been seen as, in a way, GSK/EAR/ONS ‘s last victim. She had been having trouble sleeping, and her husband (comedian Patton Oswalt) had suggested she take some Xanax and just sleep until she woke up. And she didn’t wake up, because of an undiagnosed heart condition in tandem to the Xanax and other prescriptions. The tragedy of her death lingers on the page, as there are sections with editor’s notes that explain that they were originally unfinished, or that they were pieced together by her notes or previous articles. It’s so great to see that this book and story she was so dedicated to was finished by people close to her, but the loss is still palpable.

So how does the new information about John DeAngelo affect this book? If anything, it makes it more poignant, and it certainly doesn’t diminish it. I say this because of a specific moment in the epilogue, entitled “A Letter To An Old Man”. It’s a final moment that is essentially a letter from Michelle to GSK/EAR/ONS, and it works as a powerful cap off to a wonderful book. The final paragraph is all the more powerful now. I’m going to quote part of it here to show you what I mean, a quote that’s made the rounds on social media a lot in the days after DeAngelo’s capture.

“The doorbell rings. No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly towards the insistent bell. This is how it ends for you. ‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ you threatened a victim, once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.”

And as Patton Oswalt and many others have pointed out, this is exactly what happened on April 25th, 2018.

“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is a stunning true crime book and an opus for a voice that left us far too soon. It will surely be considered one of the greats of the genre in the years to come, and Michelle McNamara will be remembered for all the good that she did in her help to bringing closure to the victims of a horrible monster. But it’s also just well written book about confronting darkness in life and in ourselves, and how to battle it as best we can.

Rating 9: A tense and well written true crime opus by a voice gone too soon, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is a tribute to perseverance, and will stand the test of time as not only a true crime classic but as one that probably helped bring justice to the victims of a monster.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “My Favorite Murder Books”, and “Best True Crime”.

Find “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “The Golden Compass”

119322We 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 “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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 Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

Publishing Info: Alfred A Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 1996

Where Did We Get This Book: We both own in!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 200 (Religion)

Book Description: Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the alethiometer. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved. 

Kate’s Thoughts

I first read “His Dark Materials” in college, at the insistence of my father, a huge fantasy nerd and book worm. I knew little to nothing about it when I opened the first pages of “The Golden Compass”, but was taken in almost immediately by the characters and the world that Philip Pullman created. And then my own personal copy (I have the whole series bound up in one) sat on my shelf, untouched until Anita picked “The Golden Compass” for book club. I was curious as to how I would view the book almost fifteen years after reading it the first time. But going back to “The Golden Compass” was worthwhile for me, even after all that time.

I will be honest, the stories of the entire series are so entwined in my mind that I can’t help but take influence from “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” when I look back at “The Golden Compass”. So my opinions of “The Golden Compass” now are probably affected by works that aren’t within the text of the first book, which was an interesting quandary to be in. During Book Club when Anita would ask questions about the story, I realized that my opinions of various things took influence by the series as a whole (as well as the first prequel book “The Book of Dust”), and I haven’t quite been able to remove the two. But I will do my best here. I really, really love the world that Pullman has built, an alternate universe  that have the same locations in our world, but with various changes to make it unique to its own. When he describes Oxford, it sounds like the Oxford of our world, but there are differences that make it its own unique location. Within this world are daemons, beings that take on the form of an animal and are attached to all people, functioning as a soul outside of the body. It’s such a cool concept that Pullman made of having a huge and intricate part of you on the outside instead of within. This time around reading it I definitely felt it a bit more than I did in college, as my initial thought was ‘how cool to have an animal sidekick!’. Now I was more introspective about what that would actually mean for a person.

I also really like the way that Pullman completely trusts his readers to handle the complex and dark themes that he throws their way. This book is definitely YA, but it takes on religious fundamentalism, child torture, and institutional corruption without holding much back. While the philosophical meditations on religion and dogma play out a bit more in the later two books, with The Magesterium REALLY revving up into its quest for absolute power, there are moments, like with the Gobblers that want to separate children from their daemons because they feel it attracts Dust (aka Original Sin in this world). Pullman is not shy when it comes to his thoughts on organized religion, and he doesn’t mince words about it. Reading it again reminded me just how much faith he puts in his readers to be able to tackle some of this critical thinking he encourages them to tackle.

It was really great going back and re-reading “The Golden Compass”, and now I feel like I should continue with a re-read. I feel like it held up pretty well for me, and this classic series still remains a powerhouse in YA Fantasy.

Serena’s Thoughts

Well since Kate mentioned it, I will take this opportunity to propose joint reviewing the next two books as well! Yes? Yes?

As Kate mentioned, I too struggled separating my mind with this book as a single unit outside of the trilogy as a whole. Unlike Kate, I’ve OBSESSIVELY re-read this series throughout my entire life. My mom read the first book to my sister and I when we were little, and then I remember that the next two books were various Christmas presents the years they came out. And it’s been an ongoing love affair ever since. Reading a series this way was also a peculiar experience. As a kid, most of what I got from these books was the action and yeah, “wouldn’t it be fun to have an animal side kick??” But as I’ve re-read, each time a bit older, there’s always another level to find. This alone easily earns it a spot on my top 10 lists.

But yes, reading this book alone and then discussing it for bookclub was hard. So much of the groundwork that is laid in this one seems like major plot points here, but then as you continue, expand exponentially and you realize you only had the tip of the iceberg to start with. But here it goes.

“The Golden Compass” definitely reads as the most middle grade/young adult of the series. Lyra is the singular main character and her feelings and adventures are at the center of everything that takes. The story pretty much lives and dies on whether you are interested in her. And Lyra has to be one of the great child protagonists. What makes her special is the fact that, from the beginning, it’s clear that she’s not a “good” child. She’s precocious, meddlesome, and disobedient. And yet she’s never terribly punished for these traits. Instead, all of these aspects of her personality are crucial to not only her success in this story, but to her very survival. Lying, in particular, is a specific strength of hers, and it is always presented as such: a strength. But for all this, Lyra is also incredibly brave, loyal, and loves openly, taking in those who society might overlook. All together, she makes for an excellent child lead. Pantelemon, for his part, serves as a balance to her character, and their witty banter and the supports they offer each other were always at the basis of my desire for a daemon of my own.

The story does have a slow start. I remember as a child being fairly bored for a good bit in the beginning of this story. As Kate said, Pullman doesn’t pull his punches with big ideas, and he dives right into these within the first 20 pages of the book, before readers have had time to form any other ideas for themselves. But once the action does start, it’s all great. And everything he includes strikes the perfect balance of appealing to both children and adults. Child snatchers called Gobblers? Significantly creepy for kids, but wait, they are also connected to this high-level religious dogma for adult readers. A child concentration camp where the kids break out? Great for kids! Super creepy for adults reading about events that look scarily similar to historical happenings. Armored bears? Awesome for kids! Awesome for adults! It’s really a testament to Pullman’s talent that he so neatly balance an action-packed adventure for kids while also introducing huge topics of religion and what makes up humans themselves.

And that ending! How can you NOT want read the entire series after that? Again, no punches pulled. Children are reading this, and yet Pullman doesn’t hesitate to introduce some really tough and challenging topics. Even as a kid, shocked and dismayed by these events, I remember appreciating the fact that this story felt so real, regardless of all the talk of armored bears and daemons, and I think it was because of the fact that Pullman treated these topics as not only acceptable but necessary for kids to read about as well as adults.

So, in summary, obviously I loved this book. Always have, always will.

Kate’s Rating 9: A complex and wondrous world of philosophy and fantasy, “The Golden Compass” holds up for me after all these years of holding it in high regard.

Serena’s Rating 9: A fantasy novel that finds the perfect balance to appeal to both adults and children, never shying away from addressing big topis, all while flying around in a zeppelin chasing after armored bears.

Book Club Questions

  1. Okay, everyone wants to share this: What kind of animal do you think your daemon would be? And what do you think a daemon is in that world vs our world?
  2. What did you think of the characters in this book and how did your opinions of them change as the book progressed?
  3. In this book, usually the gender of your daemon is the opposite gender from yourself, but sometimes you see a person and their daemon sharing the same gender. What do you think that Pullman was trying to convey with this?
  4. There are many different communities and groups within this world, from Oxford to The Bears to The Gyptians. Where/with whom would you want to live in this world?
  5. What religious parallels do you see between Lyra’s world and our world?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Golden Compass” is included on the Goodreads lists “Most Interesting Magic System”, and “Best Feminist Young Adult Books”.

Find “The Golden Compass” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Pick: “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman