Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “Allegedly”

30037870Book: “Allegedly” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

In this gritty and haunting debut, Tiffany D. Jackson explores the grey areas in our understanding of justice, family, and truth, and acknowledges the light and darkness alive in all of us.

Review: Back in January I was in Miami, Florida for a wedding celebration. This also happened to be the same weekend that some crazy and awful shit was going down in this country constitution wise (though this could really mean anything at this point, so I’m specifically referring to the travel ban). During one of the days my husband and I were cooling our heels after family time, I was getting ramped up in an anxiety spiral, so he suggested that we try and find a book store so that I could calm my nerves a bit. We found one in walking distance from our hotel, and I went on a spree. One of the books I picked up was “Allegedly”, as I’d heard some buzz on it and was solidly intrigued by the concept. As bleak and dark as it may be. So I took it on the plane with me and tore threw a lot of it in one sitting.

I liked how unflinchingly honest and real this book was about a great deal of things. Jackson pulls no punches when describing how our criminal justice system treats those who are inside of it, and how it is especially biased against POC offenders. Mary was accused of and convicted of killing a baby, which is, yes, absolutely horrible. But it is made pretty clear from the get go that the attention and rage that is directed at her is based on a deep seated racism in our society. Mary is black, and baby Alyssa was white. Reading about crowds mobbing a NINE YEAR OLD outside a courthouse, demanding the death penalty was gut wrenching, and I was glad that it was put forth multiple times that had the races been reversed between perpetrator and victim, the media wouldn’t have caused such a storm around it. And there on Mary, a child herself, was from then on treated like an adult, an thrown into a legal system that especially punishes people who look like her. I had no doubt that Jackson is taking influence from real life instances, from a nine year old girl being held in solitary to the absolutely abysmal conditions at the group home Mary ends up at.

Not only did I feel that the portrayal of the criminal justice system was accurate, I really liked how Jackson tried to be accurate and fair to portrayals of mental illness in this book. Mary is pretty clearly suffering from some form of PTSD, as her time in prison/solitary confinement as a child has done irreparable damage to her psyche. Instead of going the route of stereotypical symptoms like flashbacks or uncontrollable rage, Mary is skittish, quick to anxiety attacks, and has a heightened sense of flight instead of fight. It’s a side of PTSD that not many people may know about, and I really appreciated that Jackson took such care in her portrayal of it. So, too, is Mary’s Momma portrayed in a pretty realistic way, as a narcissist who may be suffering from bi-polar disorder. We only get to see Momma through Mary’s eyes, but the hints and clues are there that there is definitely something off about her.

Mary herself is a wonderfully created and portrayed narrator (side note: I gotta shout out to the sly aside that one of Mary’s nicknames was Mary Bell… who was also a notorious child aged murderer in England). This book is in the first person, and since Mary has so clearly been stunted from her time in prison there are lots of bits of information that we don’t quite get. The mystery slowly starts to unfold, but you always kind of know that there are things that you are never really going to know about Mary, or her Momma, or the things that happened between them before, after, and even on the night that Alyssa died. You only get to see the various clues to this and the things going on with Ted and at the group home through this lens of a very unreliable narrator. While a lot of the time I think that sometimes this makes some things kind of obvious when it comes to twists, that by hiding certain things you make it obvious that these things are there, Jackson actually surprised me when it really counted. True, I was able to figure out a couple of things, but I feel like it was all one big magic trick that distracted me from the actual solution, so when the actual answers came I was totally knocked off my seat. To the point where I actually said “WAIT….. WHAT?!”

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BraVO. (source)

“Allegedly” is a fabulous book that I cannot recommend enough, both for the societal themes and for the well crafted mystery. Fans of YA should definitely read it, but I think that this is a GREAT example of how YA shouldn’t be dismissed. Go and get your hands on it ASAP.

Rating 9: A tense and VERY upsetting book about the modern justice system, mental illness, and attempted redemption. Though it’s definitely a hard read, “Allegedly” is an important one.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Allegedly” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Deliciously Dark”, and “YA Debuts 2017”.

Find “Allegedly” at your library using WorldCat!

But the fun doesn’t stop there! You could have your own copy of this book, as I am hosting a give-away for a hardcover copy! You know you want it. The giveaway will run until March 2nd, 2017. Please see the Terms and Conditions for more details.

Click Here To Enter The Give-away!

Book Club Review: “The Neverending Story”

27712We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the 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 “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a book that has been translated from a different language” challenge.

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

Book: “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende

Publishing Info: Thienemann Verlag, 1979

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it,

Book Description: This epic work of the imagination has captured the hearts of millions of readers worldwide since it was first published more than a decade ago. Its special story within a story is an irresistible invitation for readers to become part of the book itself. And now this modern classic and bibliophile’s dream is available in hardcover again.

The story begins with a lonely boy named Bastian and the strange book that draws him into the beautiful but doomed world of Fantastica. Only a human can save this enchanted place–by giving its ruler, the Childlike Empress, a new name. But the journey to her tower leads through lands of dragons, giants, monsters, and magic–and once Bastian begins his quest, he may never return. As he is drawn deeper into Fantastica, he must find the courage to face unspeakable foes and the mysteries of his own heart.

Readers, too, can travel to the wondrous, unforgettable world of Fantastica if they will just turn the page….

Kate’s Thoughts

We are finally back to our book club, which means that we are finally back to our book club posts! This time around, the theme was pretty fun; we each came up with two themes that we put into a hat, and then whichever suggestions you drew, you had to pick what theme you wanted to do. One of the suggestions I got was “A book translated from another language.” It was in that moment that I knew exactly what I wanted to do: “The Neverending Story.” I had grown up watching the movie (and its first sequel, “Neverending Story 2”), and I’m pretty sure that I wore out the video cassette of it that we had. What can I say, eight year old Kate had a pretty serious thing for the movie’s version of Atreyu.

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To  girl me this was SO BADASS!!! (source)

But it took me awhile to actually read the book. The first time was when I was in middle school. I’ve re-read it a few times since then, but it had been awhile. And I knew that going into it I would probably expose myself to criticism and having to rethink one of my favorite books from childhood. But that was actually good for me, in the end.

There are a number of themes that can be found in this book. Sure, there is the usual ‘hero’s cycle’ theme that both Atreyu the warrior and Bastian Balthazar Bux go through. But along with that we get the themes of childhood, broken innocence, grief, and imagination. The book is split into two distinct parts: the first is Bastian acting as a (not actually) passive part of a fantasy story at hand, where the world of Fantastica is falling apart because their leader, the Childlike Empress, is dying. But it’s also because The Nothing is tearing apart the very fabric of its world. But then the second half is about how Bastian, seen as the savior of Fantastica, is taken to a world that is not his own, and is corrupted by the power he is given to save it. While they could easily read as two distinct books, as far as Bastian’s journey goes it comes full circle. I had forgotten that Bastian was such a little punk for the second half of the book, as most of my fond memories come from Atreyu’s journey. But I think that it was a very interesting choice for Ende to make the hero we’re meant to relate to and root for from the get go the one that we’re rooting against by the end. But along with that theme is the ever permeating spectre of grief that haunts the story. Fantastica is falling apart and losing itself, many of its inhabitants dying (including Atreyu’s faithful horse Artax, and don’t even think of telling me that this isn’t one of the saddest moments in movie history, jerks!). But along with that is the fact that Bastian’s mother has recently passed away, leaving Bastian feeling empty and his father lost in his own sadness, and unable to care for his child. Of course Bastian wants to run away from his life; a land of luck dragons and magic and Childlike Empresses has got to be better than the reality he’s living. Even if that land is hard and imperfect as we soon realize it is. Bastian learns that the strongest thing that a person can have is not power, but love, and that his love is needed in his own world, no matter how hard that world is. And Ende created a wonderful cast of characters to help the reader explore these themes, from the brave and loyal Atreyu to the kind and optimistic Falkor the Luck Dragon. God I love Falkor.

There are, of course, some things that left me feeling a bit cringy as I read it. As much as I really, really do love Atreyu, and think that he’s a great character and a wonderful hero for the first half of the book, it complete smacks of European cluelessness that he is clearly based on American Indian Indigenous cultures and merely in a superficial way. While he is himself a complex and well rounded character, the only things we really know about his people and culture is that 1) they hunt buffalo, and 2) they have mystical rights of passage that involve hunting these buffalo, as well as spiritual dreams/connections to said buffalo. It reeked of the ‘Indian as mystic’ trope that is far too prevalent in popular culture and literature. It’s also pretty disconcerting that there are very few women in this book, and the ones that are there are not terribly fleshed out. The Childlike Empress is wise and mysterious, but we know little about her outside of her purity and goodness. The various females Atreyu meets on his journey are just there to give him some info or advice. And then there’s Xayide. She is literally an evil sorceress who is just there to fuck things up for Bastian and turn him against his friends. Not exactly empowering.

All that said, however, I still really enjoyed going back and reading “The Neverending Story.” I think that as an old school fantasy novel it still holds up pretty well, the characters still very beloved and the story still entertaining and wondrous.

Serena’s Thoughts

I was excited when Kate picked this book as her bookclub choice. I feel like my experience of this story is the same as Kate’s which is the same as many girls our age: it all began with a strong crush on Atreyu from the movie. I mean, c’mon, let’s admit that we all loved him!

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(source)

However, I never made it past the movie version of the story (though I, too, wore out my VHS copy of the film). I did know that the movie only focused on the first half of the book and while I did watch the sequel film once (I remember that they re-cast Atreyu and I’m pretty sure kid!Serena saw that as an unforgivable crime and never looked back), I have no memory of the story. So I was especially curious to get the second half of the book.

But let’s start with the first half! Right off that bat I was horrified…by the fact that the magical land is called “Fantastica” and I’ve known it as “Fantasia” all along! What is this change?? Cuz now I’m all mixed up about it since I’ve known it as “Fantasia” my whole life only now to discover that this was a change from the original! This was a major internal conflict for me throughout the book. But on a more serious note, I very much enjoyed this first half and how true to the book the movie really did stay in this part. There were changes here and there, some that I preferred in the movie (I think the tension was greater in the movie with the First Gate sphynxs than the way they were described to work in the book) and some that I preferred in the book (man, somehow Artax’s death CAN be even more traumatic!)

I very much the extra insight (though its still very minimal) with regards to the relationship between the Childlike Empress and the land of Fantasia itself. While still confusing and never fully explained, I felt like the connection between her, The Nothing, and the land of Fantasia (I just now realized that I’ve been typing Fantasia instead of Fantastica this whole time! See?! It’s hard!) is a better lain out in the book. I also really liked the character of Atreyu. He was heroic in the movie, but here we see even more how impossible his task was when it was given to him and how brave he would have to be to move forward with so little hope of success.

Bastian on the other hand…Look, I never really liked him in the movie and I didn’t really like him here. Though, I will say that I liked him better in the first half of the book than I did in the movie that covered this portion. Here he’s a bit bumbling, but he picks up on what is going on in a more willing way. Maybe it was just the kid actor in the movie, but I never really liked Bastian there. Kid-me always got very annoyed by the way he reacted to the realization that he was in the book. He got angry instead of inspired, and as a kid who always wanted to live in a book, too, I was never impressed by him.

But then we get to the second half and now I feel completely justified in my initial dislike of him as a kid. Maybe that actor was just channeling this portion of the character all along and was simply done a diservice by only portraying the first half’s version who is supposed to be the more sympathetic of the two. I had a harder time with this portion and I can see why the movie stuck to the first half of the book. It’s just always going to be a bit of a hard sell when you main character turns into a real brat. As Kate mentioned, there are some lovely themes of grief and love throughout this all, but I’m still a bit biased towards the first half. Though this is honestly probably due to the movie’s lasting influence on me. Oh well!

Kate already covered a few of the problematic issues of the book, so I won’t go into them myself. They were distracting, but I wouldn’t say anything was overly offensive to a point that it affected my reading of the story. Just a bit unfortunate, ultimately.

All told, I very much enjoyed this book! While I enjoyed the first half more than the second, it was an interesting read altogether. I imagine especially for the time the “metaness” of the story itself was particularly interesting, and, even now when this approach has been explored in other books (“The Princess Bride” comes to mind a bit), it still has some fresh takes on a story-within-a-story.

Kate’s Rating 9: Though it is certainly not perfect and has some flaws that I had a hard time overlooking, “The Neverending Story” is still a fun and wondrous fantasy book with lots of deep and meaningful themes and lovely characters.

Serena’s Rating 8: I second what Kate said! One point lower for me as I did find myself struggling a bit at times with my increasing dislike of Bastian, but still a thoroughly enjoyable read!

Book Club Questions:

1) What do you think about the world of Fantastica and how it’s influenced by our world? Is the thought of readers having influence on stories a theme that you enjoyed?

2)Ende clearly took some influence from American Indian cultures/stereotypes when he created the character of Atreyu. How do you feel about him as a character throughout this story? What do you think of his portrayal?

3)Bastian starts out the story as a passive character who is merely reading a book, but finds out that he has the ability to influence the world of Fantastica. What did you think of his journey from the beginning of the story to the end?

4)In this book there is the constant spectre of devastation, grief, and loss, be it the destruction of Fantastica by the Nothing to the loss of Bastian’s mother. What do you think Ende was trying to say about these feelings of despair and grief within human nature?

5)There are many instances within this book where Ende would hint at other stories and adventures of certain characters, but would say ‘but that’s another story and shall be told another time’. Which of these stories would you most want to learn about?

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Neverending Story” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Doors, Portals, Gates”, and “Quests”.

Find “The Neverending Story” at your library using WorldCat!

The next book club book is “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”!

Kate’s Review: “Everything You Want Me To Be”

29276588Book: “Everything You Want Me To Be” by Mindy Mejia

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to her death.

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

Review: Small towns and their secrets. It’s a plot device that I am a huge sucker for. I don’t know if it’s because both my parents grew up in small towns and have many stories to tell and spill the tea on, but it has always been the kind of story that I can get behind. From “Twin Peaks” to “Peyton Place”, the Small Town Secrets trope can be incredibly tantalizing. The description of “Everything You Want Me To Be” makes it pretty clear from the get go that this is the kind of book that you’re going to be reading, and I can’t tell ya  enough how happy that makes me. Sudsy, dark, seedy, scandalous books are sometimes just what the doctor ordered, and it was a page turner that I greatly enjoyed.

Okay, so yes, perhaps part of that enjoyment is taken from the fact that this book takes place in small town Minnesota. Any book or film or show that takes place in my home state is going to get an advantage from me, just because you don’t see it all that often. And Mejia being from here definitely gave it that feel of authenticity, as you can tell that she knows the culture and knows some of the nuances of the people and towns that are outside of the larger cities. As I read this book I couldn’t help but think about the Jacob Wetterling Case a little bit, a kidnapping that happened in central Minnesota that went unsolved for 27 years (go HERE for a very well done podcast about the crime, the investigation, and the aftermath). There were many people who thought that it could just never happen there, and whenever something along those lines was said about Pine Valley, my stomach clenched up. Mejia captured the naïveté of a ‘simpler’ life and society very well.

I also thought that all of the perspective characters in this book were written very well. None of them were simple caricatures, when they very easily could have been. The first perspective is from Del Goodman, the sheriff of the county who is in charge of investigating the murder of Hattie Hoffman. He’s a friend of her family and has always known her as a sweet, intelligent girl who had big dreams and a big heart. That is really how most of the town knows her, and Del is determined to bring her killer to justice. He could very, VERY easily fall into the trope of craggy and stubborn sheriff who has seen a lot but never can accept that it ‘could happen here’. But instead he’s pretty level headed and is there to piece together the clues that we get as he finds them. But along with him we get two more perspectives. The first is if Peter, the new English teacher at the school who moved to small town Minnesota with his wife Mary to help his ailing mother in law. He’s a fish out of water from Minneapolis, and Mary has made it clear that she doesn’t see him as robust and ‘manly’ now that he’s on the farm. So when he starts up an online relationship with the mysterious “HollyG”, he finds validation and solace he feels he’s lost at home. Of course, as one could guess, HollyG is Hattie. Peter could VERY easily be portrayed as a predatory and insecure asshole who is merely trying to manipulate and recapture his youth/stroke his ego. But Mejia definitely makes him far more complex than that. He radiates ennui and frustration, and desperation, and while she never lets him off the hook, you can understand how he got on the hook in the first place. And then there’s Hattie. Hattie could either be portrayed as a small town girl with big dreams who gets caught up in her own hopes and wishes…. Or of a man-eater whose ambitions lead to manipulation and abject cruelty all in the name of getting what she wants. However, she really treads the line between both, and instead you get a girl who feels trapped inside a place that is far too small for her, and is desperate to escape by any means necessary. I was expecting to end up hating her, be it because she was too pure or because she was a complete psycho. But she never went that far. And I ended up pleased with that.

Mejia brings these three narratives together to tell a very strong mystery about what happened to Hattie. And I will say, I was definitely taken for quite the ride. There were hints and clues that were dropped that I thought were far too obvious, only for them to be completely different from what I thought. Then there were things that I thought had to be red herrings, that actually ended up being completely legitimate, but framed in such a way that you HAD to think they were misleading! It was a real trip. All of this bundled together to make it so I didn’t know who did it, I wasn’t certain of the motive, and everything I knew was wrong. True, there were a couple of revelations and resolutions that left me feeling a little ‘oh, is that all?’ because of so many well done twists and turns, but ultimately I really enjoyed the path that we had to take to get to the solution to the crime. And boy was it hard for me to put this book down until I had that solution. For the first time in a long while I was at work wishing that the day could just be over already specifically because I wanted to go home and finish this book.

“Everything You Want Me To Be” is the best thriller of the year so far, and it’s going to have to have some pretty stiff competition thrown it’s way to have it overthrown. Definitely, DEFINITELY check this one out if you like thrillers. You will not be disappointed.

Rating 9: A provocative and addictive book that kept me guessing the whole time. Though I feel there was a slight anticlimax, I was still very drawn in and entertained. Definitely one to check out if you want a fun and worthwhile thriller.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Everything You Want Me To Be” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Gripping Stand Alone Page Turners”, and “January 2017 Buzz Books”.

Find “Everything You Want Me To Be” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile”

7389741Book: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Random House Australia, April 2010

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

Book Description: Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family take shelter in England. Sophie’s dreams of making her debut in shimmering ballgowns are finally coming true, but how can she enjoy her new life when they have all lost so much?

Aunt Charlotte is ruthless in her quest to see Sophie and Veronica married off by the end of the Season, Toby is as charming and lazy as ever, Henry is driving her governess to the brink of madness, and the battle of wills between Simon and Veronica continues. Can Sophie keep her family together, when everything seems to be falling apart?

An enticing glimpse into high society, the cut and thrust of politics as nations scramble to avert world war, and the hidden depths of a family in exile, struggling to find their place in the world.

Review: Kate and I read the first book in this young adult trilogy, “A Brief History of Montemaray,” for bookclub and as I was more enamored by it than she was, I decided to continue with the trilogy. Especially since the ending of the last book left a large, lingering question mark over the future of the FitzOsborne family and their small, island kingdom.

Driven away from their remote home, this book refocuses the story on more typical, historical fare: debutantes, dinner parties, and their poor Aunt Charlotte’s ever-long struggle to marry off her young charges. But, sprinkled within these more frivolous aspects, was a running commentary on the dramatic, and often tragic, historical happenings of the time.

While the first book took place over a few short months, was limited by its location, and was told from the perspective of a much younger character, this story expands itself in every way. The book takes place over the course of 2-3 years, leaving us with an 18-year-old Sophie by the end of it. Throughout the time, we see her mature as a narrator, and, even more interestingly, watch the slow shifts that went on throughout the world during this tumultuous time period.

Without going into a political rant, I was particularly fascinated by the slow, steady evolution of these events. As a reader, we know how these things turn out and have the perspective of time to influence our opinions. Through this book, we see how small concessions and small moments of willfully turning a blind eye to the plight of those we (as a country or as a smaller group) deem disconnected from us can lead to very negative events. There was also a particularly fascinating bit where Sophie and Simon discuss the appeal of these types of populists leaders, how their message can be so easily tuned to  the wishes and prejudices of each specific audience group, and how broad promises and the creations of “others” to blame can have massive appeal when people are desperate.

Beyond the political and historical aspects of the story, I enjoyed watching these characters change and grow throughout the story. The first book gives us such a brief glimpse into their lives, that, while I loved many of them, it was also easy for each to fall into stereotypes (even if I loved some of those stereotypes like bookworm!Veronica). But here, we see how Toby’s struggles with school more broadly reflect his confusion with his place in his family and the world. How Veronica’s political and historical interests stand up against the onslaught of British high society. How Sophie learns to see the strengths in her own, more quiet, personality.

I also loved the introduction of a few new characters. Aunt Charlotte was brilliant. Similar to the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, she is a character that is written in a way that while she spouts some rather unfeeling, aristocratic nonsense, she does it in such a comical way that the reader ends up loving her for it.

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(source)

There is also the introduction of Julia’s brother, Rupert, who seems to be set up as a potential love interest for Sophie. And, as he spends large portions of the book carrying around an injured doormouse in his pocket and feeding the squirrels, he seems quite suitably sweet for our lovely main character.

I very much enjoyed “The FitzOsbornes in Exile.” In fact, I would say that it was even better than the first, benefiting from a more extended timeline, a closer connection to historical happenings, and more mature characters.

Rating 9: An excellent, young adult historical fiction piece. Definitely recommended for fans of the WWII era who are interested in the quieter side and effects of the build up to the war.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The FitzOsbornes in Exile” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “World War II England” and “YA Debutantes.”

Find “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Brief History of Montmaray”

Kate’s Review: “The Call”

30292413Book: “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: Scholastic Inc, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Hunger Games meets horror in this unforgettable thriller where only one thing is certain . . . you will be Called.

Thousands of years ago, humans banished the Sidhe fairy race to another dimension. The beautiful, terrible Sidhe have stewed in a land of horrors ever since, plotting their revenge . . . and now their day has come.

Fourteen-year-old Nessa lives in a world where every teen will be “Called.” It could come in the middle of the day, it could come deep in the night. But one instant she will be here, and the next she will wake up naked and alone in the Sidhe land. She will be spotted, hunted down, and brutally murdered. And she will be sent back in pieces by the Sidhe to the human world . . . unless she joins the rare few who survive for twenty-four hours and escape unscathed.

Nessa trains with her friends at an academy designed to maximize her chances at survival. But as the days tick by and her classmates go one by one, the threat of her Call lurks ever closer . . . and with it the threat of an even more insidious danger closer to home.

Review: I think that a lot of people have started associating YA science fiction with the idea of the dystopian society, and that the plot is a group of teenagers who have decided to fight back against it. With books like “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, “The Testing”, and “Matched” all being hits in their own rights, I think that if a plot has any smatterings of their themes, it will automatically be lumped in with them. I know that I almost made the mistake of doing this with “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín. After all, it takes place at a school where teenagers are being trained for the fight of their life, a test that will in all likelihood leave them dead and mangled. “Oh how ‘Hunger Games'” I thought to myself. But man, was I wrong. And I’m ashamed that I was willing to be even slightly dismissive of it.

On paper, sure, it sounds like a familiar trope. But “The Call” is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read in a long time, for a number of reasons. The first is that our main character, Nessa, is a polio survivor, and has to walk with the aid of crutches as one of her legs has been permanently damaged by it. Diversity in YA literature is important, and that includes people with disabilities. From what I know about Polio (having read about it and knowing someone who is a Polio survivor), Ó Guilín did a really good job of portraying Nessa and her strengths and limitations, and while he never used her disability in a ‘let’s all feel sorry for her’ kind of way, he also was honest with how hard it would be, especially in a situation where you have to be able to run and fight. Nessa is a very well rounded character beyond that as well, as she is headstrong and stubborn, but has insecurities that could apply to not just her and her situation, but many teenage girls from lots of backgrounds. She has her problems with her friends, she has her problems with love and relationships, and she has her problems with her family (though they are pretty removed from this story in general). She is a seriously great female protagonist for a YA fantasy novel, always rooted in realism and never treading towards some superhuman and unrealistic ideal. I especially loved her friendship with her best friend Megan, a sarcastic and snide girl who is the perfect foil to her, but very clearly and fiercely has her back. And huzzah and hurray, there is no love triangle to be found here, as Nessa only has eyes for one guy, the pacifist and quiet Anto. Anto as a character isn’t as interesting as Nessa or even Megan, but the arc that he does go on is a pretty good one, and luckily he isn’t there just to be the ‘boy who sees her for what she’s worth isn’t it sweet’ kind of gig. Given that this is supposedly the start of a series, I would be very curious to see where Anto goes, both for himself and with Nessa.

The world itself is also very, very original. While I can understand that the militarized training for teens smacks of “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, this world is far more creative than that. For one, this isn’t a totalitarian regime that is oppressing these kids by using violence and isolation to control them. This is another outside force, in this case the Sidhé, or fairies. And these fairies are not the kind of fairies we think of in sanitized fairy tales. These fairies were banished from Ireland to another world, and they are taking their revenge by sucking up Ireland’s teenagers and trying to kill them. And succeeding 1 out of 10 times. These are the kinds of violent fairies that original folklore spoke of, the kind that would put a death curse on a baby just because they weren’t invited to said baby’s Christening.

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And I mean the REAL Maleficent, not that Angelina Jolie bullshit. (source)

I think that modern fantasy needs more evil and menacing fairies, and “The Call” really delivered on that. Not only are the Sidhé mysterious and vengeful, they are very, VERY violent. Like, to the point where I was getting pretty disturbed by the kind of stuff that they would inflict upon the teens who were taken by The Call. From skinning them, to mutilating them, to transforming them into hideous creatures out of Giger-esque nightmares, these Sidhé were not screwing around, and it made the stakes feel very, very high. Which in turn made me terrified to see what happened next, but also unable to put the book down whenever a poor, hapless teen was taken by The Call.  I also appreciated how Ó Guilín has changed Ireland in subtle ways to reflect how this situation would affect society, with the people knowing English, Old Irish, and Sidhé out of tradition, pride, and necessity, just as I liked how he made it clear that the Sidhé are not the only villains in this story, and in some ways are understandably upset. The best example of this is that by far the scariest villain is not the evil fairies, but a human teenager named Conor. His misogyny and violent obsession with Nessa was just as off putting as the sadistic fairies that chase down teenagers, and the fact that Conor is a very realistic villain in his sociopathy and entitlement made him the most skin crawling of all the antagonists in this book.

I really, really enjoyed “The Call” and I am actually pretty pumped that it sounds like Ó Guilín is going to write more stories in it’s world. Definitely give this a try if you like books like “The Hunger Games”, but know that it stands quite well on it’s own.

Rating 9: A very intense and original fantasy, “The Call” is a refreshing new take on YA survival thrillers, with a fabulous protagonist and deliciously evil fairies.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Call” is not on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that fans of “The Hunger Games” would find a lot to like, and I would put it on “Best YA Fairy Books”.

Find “The Call” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”

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Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

In this third volume, Spider Jerusalem begins to crumble under the pressure of sudden and unwanted fame. Having had enough of the warped 23rd century Babylon that he lives in, Spider escapes into a world of bitterness and pills. As he stumbles through this haze of depression and drugs, he must find a way to cover the biggest story of the year, the presidential election. Armed with only his demented mind and dark sense of humor, Spider embarks on an adventure of political cynicism, horrific sex, and unwelcome celebrity which culminates in a shocking and ruinous ending.

Review: When we left of in “Transmetropolitan”, things got a bit existential and a bit off track of the main plot. That isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the stories that we got in “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. I actually really did enjoy them for what they were and what purpose they served. I liked learning more about the world that this series takes place in, and the limits and limitlessness that society lives with. But I’ll be honest, I was stoked to see that we were getting back into the down and dirty nitty gritty with “Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard”. Spider’s assistant Channon has left him in the lurch, and he’s turned to drugs and angst. But then he is approached by Vita Severn, the campaign manager of the candidate who is going to rival The Beast. This man is known as The Smiler, as he perpetually smiles and tries to show off a chipper demeanor to counteract The Beast.

Spider, of course, is NOT fooled by any of this bullshit.

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(source)

As much as maybe in this moment I needed someone to rail against The Beast in any way, shape, and form, it was very nice to see that Spider Jerusalem stayed true to form and showed a blatant mistrust for any and all politicians, even ones that could possibly take down the monster in charge. The whole point of this series is that corruption is rampant and a simple answer isn’t readily available because of it. But along with that, we get to see that sometimes in an imperfect situation, there are symbols of hope. And I am, of course, referring to the lovely, strong, and badass Vita Severn, the one friggin’ symbol of true hope that The Smiler’s campaign truly has.

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Here she is with a literal Princess Leia ‘do. That’s deliberate. (source)

I had completely forgotten about Vita. I know why I did (no spoilers), but this time around she left such a positive impression on me she has skyrocketed up to my top five favorite characters in this series. I love that Ellis writes women so well and in such varied ways. You have Channon, a volatile and snarky, but ultimately supportive and caring, ex stripper who will protect Spider at all costs. You have Vita, a brilliant political mind who knows that her choice in candidate is not perfect, but truly feels that it’s the only way to take down an even worse threat. And then, there’s the introduction of Yelena, Spider’s new assistant. Yelena is so different from Channon, in that she has no interest in hanging out with Spider, and deeply resents that she is being made to (she’s Spider’s boss’s niece). And if you thought that Channon didn’t take crap from Spider, Yelena is the absolute master of not taking crap from him. On my first read through of this series I wasn’t as into Yelena, but this time around, I am really enjoying her thus far. Even if she’s a bit 2 Edgy 4 Me at times.

As far as the plot progression goes, as I mentioned before, we get back on track with the main plot in this collection. Spider gets fully pulled into covering the Election, pressured to speak out in favor of the Smiler in spite of the fact that he finds the Smiler pretty corrupt in his own ways. I liked the issues that this raises, bringing up the questions of supporting someone who is flawed and bad in different ways in the name of dethroning and taking down someone who is the evil you already know. I can see arguments for both sides, and I think that Ellis does a good job of showing why both positions have their pros and cons. Along with this, we get to see how flawed Spider himself is. Sure, in the first two collections he’s definitely brash, violent, bitter, and rageful. But in this one we see that he’s also spiraling now that Channon is gone, and that his addiction to drugs is back in full swing. Spider is certainly based in part on Hunter S. Thompson, and it’s in storylines like these that we are reminded that Thompson himself was incredibly screwed up, no matter how brilliant he was. I love Spider, but I applaud that Ellis isn’t making him free of critique or problems that could really do damage to him and to those around him.

Plus, the ending of this collection…… It just gutted me. I had forgotten about it, and I gasped out loud when the big climax happened, because damn was it unexpected, and DAMN did it hurt.

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So much pain. SO MUCH PAIN. (source)

This series continues to be great, and I can’t wait to see what I rediscover next. Even if I know I’m going to get emotionally ravaged again and again. Thanks, Spider. Thanks a lot.

Rating 9: We are back on the main storyline and it goes as dark and darkly funny as you’d expect from this series. It was great seeing Yelena finally show up, and Spider continues to be both the best and the worst.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): The Year of the Bastard” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 3): The Year of the Bastard” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”.

Serena’s Review: “Glamour in Glass”

12160890Book: “Glamour in Glass” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison…and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country’s war.

Review: The second in the “Glamourist Histories” sereis, “Glamour in Glass” resolved many of the issues I had with the first book and introduced an expanded world and magic system.

While the appeal of the first book lay largely in its comparisons to a Jane Austen novel with magic, this aspect was also its biggest downfall. Let’s face it: more often than not, being compared to a Jane Austen novel is a kiss of death for many historical books since it will only raise expectations to impossible heights. While “Shades of Milk and Honey” wasn’t sunk by the comparison, it didn’t do the story any favors either. The plot devices or characters who struck to closely to aspects of “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility,” or “Pride and Prejudice” were at best distractions and at worst lacking the heart and wit that lies at the core of these originals. However, this book, taking place after the marriage of Jane and Vincent, is freed from these comparisons as it ventures into unknown territory to Jane Austen stories: Life after the wedding.

I enjoyed reading about Jane and Vincent’s struggles learning to adjust to married life. While very much in love, the reality is that they still have much to learn about each other, both in regards to their own personal relationship, and with how they balance their “professional” lives as gifted glamourists, each in their own way.

The expanded descriptions and explanations for this magic system were particularly interesting. It is a very unique take on magical and I enjoyed discovering more about how it work and the varying ways it can be adapted for different uses. I remember noting in my last review that this type of magic seemed as if it would have more important applications than simply as an art form, and this book explores this concept, much to my delight. Particularly, the book dives into the ways that glamour magic is used as strategy in military maneuvering.

As the description highlights, there is much more action in this story, particularly for Jane. I enjoyed watching her make proactive choices, rather than simply react to the circumstances presented to her.

My only complaint was the decreased role that some of the original characters played in this story. While the setting places some obvious constraints on the involvement of these characters (obviously Melody would not be on their honeymoon with them!), I still missed them.

All in all, this book improved on both of my complaints of the original: freeing itself from comparisons and expanding the use of its magic system. If you were only half-sold on the first book, definitely check this one out as I see it as a great improvement in the series.

Rating 8: A step in the right direction for the series as a whole!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Glamour in Glass” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Regency Fantasy” and “Historical Paranormal Romance.”

Find “Glamour in Glass” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed:“Shades of Milk and Honey”