Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising”

31624824Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Based on the hit DC Collectibles product line! As World War II rages across Europe, the Allied forces issue a call to arms for the greatest heroines the world has ever known! With an old villain arising from beyond the grave, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Kara Starikov, Kortni Duginova and Mera must aid the Allied forces while at home, a brave group of Batgirls must defend the homeland!
The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 3.

Review: With the way that the last “DC Bombshells” collection ended (if you’ll remember, it was devastating), I was wondering if we were going to get into more pathos in which we’d have to potentially say goodbye to another of our beloved heroines. I suppose that I should have steeled myself for that possibility from the get go, as this is WWII and with war comes death. And given that our ladies are spread out across various fronts, battling not only Nazis, but also Nazi Zombies, the stakes are pretty high. And we jumped right back into it.

But first, we went back to the home front to check in with the Bat Girls! They’re continuing there time of taking up the mantle for Batwoman while she is overseas, and this time they have a new ally to go along with Maggie Sawyer.

LOIS LAAAAAAAANE!!!!

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It’s her time at the table, folks, so buckle up! (source)

Seeing Lois introduced (and giving her a very interesting backstory that gently but deftly touches on the immigrant experience) was a serious treat for this Lois Lane fangirl. It was also great seeing her jump in without having to worry about needing help from Superman (still nowhere in sight), and helping the Bat Girls break up a crime ring (involving the Penguin!), though they find themselves wanted in the process. Seeing this and a non-Two Face-d version of Harvey Dent going on and on as a political candidate with an “America First” platform made this story feel pretty close to home.

But meanwhile, in Europe, we catch up with our Bombshells on the front lines. We don’t get to see Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or the aftermath of Stargirl’s death this time, but that’s okay by me. I’m not ready to see the fallout from that. But that isn’t to say that we have a lack of stories this time around, as we are juggling a number of story lines. We have Batwoman, leaving Wonder Woman and Stargirl to try and get back to the front lines, who meets up with an old flame, Renee Montoya (aka The Question). They first met during the Spanish Civil War, and fought on the rebel side against the fascists. Now they are teaming up again, in spite of bad memories of losing a young protege and friend named Jacon (YES AS IN JASON TODD I AM SCREAMING) and the end of their love. You have Zatanna, who has been sent to a ghetto because of her Jewish and Romani heritage, and is being tormented by Joker’s Daughter, who has taken away her powers. You have Mera, who has washed up in Ireland without her powers, banished from Atlantis and her rightful throne. And we finally come back to Harley and Ivy, who have become freedom fighters for the resistance, and have found love with each other as they try to make their way to Berlin to take down the Nazis from their home base. And I haven’t even mentioned Huntress, Miri Marvel, Joker, Catwoman, Raven, and Aquaman, who all make appearances as well.

It’s definitely a lot to balance. But Bennett does a really good job of slowly but surely weaving all of these stories together. It was SO lovely to see my girls Harley and Ivy again, and to see how they play into this whole thing. I was wondering how it was all going to fit together, but it does. I was also really relieved that even though we did get a bit more romance with some of the heavy hitting men of the Universe (Aquaman and Constantine, specifically), it didn’t bring down Mera or Zatanna. Even though Mera has found lighthouse keeper Arthur, there is no sign of him having powers that are going to outdo hers as of yet. Their romance is just another part of her as a person, but Mera remains Mera and isn’t distracted from her goal of getting her powers and Atlantis back. The same can be said for Constantine, who is in the ghetto with Zatanna. He is there to support her, but his presence doesn’t weaken her or make her seem like he is her only strength in a horrific situation.

I loved seeing all of these women come together to fight against Joker’s Daughter and the Nazis, and that a number of these women in this story are Jewish or of Jewish descent, as Batwoman, Zatanna, Miri, and Harley all make mention of their heritage while they are inside the ghetto during a shabbat dinner. There was great beauty in this entire moment, as it wasn’t solely a ‘savior’ moment, as these women are also targets because of their heritage. The symbolism was bittersweet, and I really appreciated it. It was also good seeing the concept of abusive and controlling relationships being addressed, and not just in romantic ways. There was a small moment with Harley and Joker as she tells Ivy about her past, but there is also the relationship between Joker’s Daughter and Zatanna, and the relationship between Mera and her former beau. There is also poor Raven, who has only known Joker’s Mother as her mother figure, and is so damaged in her need to please her but also her need to escape. These are things that women in real life have to grapple with, and I so appreciate that this series dares to bring up the toxicity of relationships like these, and contrast them with healthy relationships. Harley finds Ivy. Zatanna finds Constantine. Raven finds a new group of women to mother her. Mera finds Arthur. And they all find more self respect. It’s just so positive!!! I can’t gush about it enough!!

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(source)

There is just so much to love in this series. It continues to be super feminist, it continues to strive for diversity, and it continues to have some awesome action sequences that are just as good as any other superhero comic out there. I am once again sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the next one in the series (out this fall I think!). While I’m worried that some characters are done, I am excited to see who else could show up.

Rating 10: Once again “DC Bombshells” knocks me off my seat and excites and thrills me until I turn the final page. These ladies continue to kick serious ass!!!

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but given the lists it’s predecessors are on it would fit right in on “#fempowerathon”, and “Amazons, Female Warriors, and Wonder Women”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “DC Bombshells (Vol 1): Enlisted!”, and “DC Bombshells (Vol 2): Allies”.

Book Club Review: “The Inquisitor’s Tale”

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

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

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

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

Kate’s Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Serena’s Thoughts

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

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Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club Questions

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

Reader’s Advisory

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

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

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

 

Emily’s Corner: “Miss Buncle’s Book”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Serena’s Review: “Long May She Reign”

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

Publication Info: HarperTeen, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Serena’s Review: “The Valiant”

30375703Book: “The Valiant” by Lesley Livingston

Publishing Info: Razorbill, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

Review: If you read the above description and thought to yourself “that sounds a lot like the movie ‘Gladiator’ but with a teenage girl instead of Russel Crowe,” well….you wouldn’t be wrong. Your mileage for whether or not that is a good or bad thing will depend on your opinion of that movie. I thought it was quite enjoyable, but I love overly dramatic action movies myself. So with that in mind, and firmly stifling any inner thoughts about historical accuracy, I was excited when this book arrived on the hold shelf at my library last week and jumped right in. And…it was kind of what I expected, there were things I enjoyed, but ultimately I wasn’t blown over by the book as a whole.

First to the pros! This book is non stop action, almost from the very first page where we meet Fallon attempting to execute a dangerous, yet flashy, spear throw from a precarious balance point on a racing chariot. The scene is set. Fallon is a no-holds-barred warrior princess, and I am happy to report that she sticks to these guns throughout the book. We are not simply told that she is an excellent fighter, we see it proven to us time and again.

With break neck speed, the novel rushes through our introductions to Fallon, her father, who is still devastated by the loss of his eldest daughter, Sorcha (who was a brilliant fighter in her own right and essentially raised Fallon and taught her everything she knows), and setting the stage that was Fallon’s life so far. And with equal swiftness, that rug is swept out from Fallon’s, and our, feet, and she’s off to Rome, a captured slave destined for the gladiatorial arenas. Lots of training, fighting, and political drama thus ensues.

And for the most part, I very much enjoyed this fast paced style. The book never sets out to present an in-depth character study of Fallon or historical analysis of her homeland (Britain) and its relationship with the conquering Rome. The book is meant to be full of fight scenes, and full of fight scenes it is. Character development does fall to the wayside with this approach, though Fallon remains true to her original characterization throughout, which was a relief.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Elka, a fellow slave-turned-gladiatrix (yes, that is what the female gladiators are called and I cringed every time it came up). Elka is badassery defined. And she also turns into a true and steady friend for Fallon. About halfway through the book, she sadly begins to fade into the background, but whenever she reappeared, I was reminded of how much color she added to the story. Fallon herself was a steady character, but her steadiness also read as a bit one-note at times. Elka’s more electric presence helped reinforce Fallon herself.

Most of my qualms came in the form of the romance. *sigh* All too often that is the case for me, and I was sorry to see it happen here as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the romance. But it is never built up. Cai, a Roman soldier, is given no unique traits and seems to, out of nowhere, fall in love with Fallon. And she with him. The amount of time they know each other is minuscule. The natural biases they would have against each other would seemingly be insurmountable, both based on the strife between their countries and the fact that he is a soldier who has probably been trained from birth to look down on slaves and she is a warrior whose father’s spirit was broken by Roman soldiers. It just seems like it should have been more difficult, or at least taken longer and be given more attention for a true-feeling relationship to develop. I simply didn’t care about Cai or this relationship. Elka’s and Fallon’s relationship is much better developed. And frankly, I would have been more than happy to have a book that is already largely focused on the sisterly bonds that can be formed between women and the power this can give them to have based its primary relationships on these only with no need to add romance into the mix at all.

There were also a few “surprises” that weren’t surprises at all if you are familiar with the genre. I was able to quite easily predict the most major twist, and also understand the character motivations that were later revealed, thus making Fallon’s shock and struggle to understand these same points a bit tiresome to plow through.

So, while I did enjoy the action, and Fallon was a decent lead character (if made better by supporting characters like Elka), the story was a bit too predictable and the romance way too tepid for me to completely fall in love with this book. I’ll mark the second one as a “to read” but I don’t feel any anxiety in the wait for its release. However, if you want a strong YA female warrior book and don’t mind a few stale aspects, this might be worth checking out!

Rating 6: Strong action and a likeable heroine weren’t enough to make this book completely engrossing, but it accomplishes its main goal and was a quick read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Valiant” is a newly released book so isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it has themes fitting of “Best Historical Fiction About Ancient Rome” and “Young Adult Female Fighters.”

Find “The Valiant” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog”

157857Book: “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, February 1994

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

Book Description: Now, in the seventh mystery in the series, the Emerson-Peabodys are traveling up the Nile once again to encounter their most deadly adversary, the Master Criminal, who is back at his sinister best. Amelia Peabody was unabashedly proud of her newest translation, a fragment of the ancient fairytale “The Doomed Prince.” Later, she would wonder why no sense of foreboding struck her as she retold the story of the king’s favorite son who had been warned that he would die from the snake, the crocodile, or the dog. Little did she realize, as she and her beloved husband sailed blissfully toward the pyramids of ancient Egypt, that those very beasts (and a cat as well) would be part of a deadly plot.

Review: And we’re back for my first Amelia Peabody review of the year! After coming out on the top of my favorite reads list from 2016, I had high expectations for this book and this series. But, most comforting of all, even this far into the series, I had very few worries that I would not enjoy this book as much as I have the many that have come before it. Trust has been built, and I can now look forward to each next book in this series with very little trepidation.

“The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” opens with Amelia and Evelyn pining for the adventure and romance of the past. Neither is unhappy with their life, full as each is by family and profession, but both Amelia and Evelyn spend moments reminiscing for the romantic passions they remember pre-children. And from these honest and natural feelings, comes very unwanted results, at least for Amelia. After returning to Egypt for another season, Amelia is looking forward to a rare opportunity to work alone with Emerson, as Ramses has chosen to remain in England for…school (to moon over Nefret, more likely). But these simple plans are suddenly foiled when Emerson is kidnapped and, while escaping the experience with his life, loses his memories in the process, including the fact that he was ever married to a woman named Amelia Peabody.

Generally, I am very suspicious of the whole amnesia plot tactic. This probably stems from being burned in early childhood by the egregious and completely unacceptable use of an amnesia story being thrown into my beloved “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and essentially triggering the beginning of the end for the series as a whole. But I won’t go on another rant about that, though it’s is difficult to resist. However, here, Peters uses it as simply another foil to Amelia’s ever-lasting quest to simply get through an archeological season without murder and mystery.

Having read the series up to this point over the last few years, it was interesting being thrown back in time, essentially, to the character that Emerson was pre-Amelia. I have to say, I’m not sure he deserved her, based on his behavior here! I haven’t re-read the original story, but I have to think that this version of the character was fairly true to how he was written then, and in one word, he’s kind of an ass. I have gotten accustomed to his gruffness and easy piques of anger always being balanced by his love and respect for Amelia. But without her influence or his desire to appease her sense of rightness, these quirks suddenly start overcoming the more appealing parts of his character. However, Amelia remains steadfast to winning him back throughout it all, even if we, the readers, want to smack him up the backside of the head (though she does employ similar tactics in her “wooing”).

The mystery itself is quite a tangled web with many villains re-appearing from past books. Probably the most challenging part of the story was trying to remember these characters and keep their histories straight in my head. There is typically a large cast of characters in these books, but we’re often meeting them for the first time and thus given time to acquaint ourselves. Here, while brief introductions are given, a lot is left to the reader to fill in gaps. I feel like the suspects would have been better rounded out had these histories and motivations been a bit better documented, for those of us who don’t have an encyclopedic memory of the series as a whole.

I also enjoyed the fact that the Nefret storyline wasn’t completely dropped in this book.  Most of the previous books can be read as standalones, and that is true of this one as well, for the most part. But the adventures and outcomes of “The Last Camel Died at Noon” introduced lasting effects on the Emerson-Peabody family going forward. Not only do we have a new character whom we can only assume will be a major staple in the series in the future, but her sudden appearance and secret history would be largely commented on by society as a whole. On the more intimate character level, I loved Amelia’s struggles with adapting to being a mother figure for a daughter as well as a son, and her realization that their needs are very different. And on a larger story level, I appreciated the fact that the happenings of the previous book were paramount to the mystery we have here while still allowing the book to be read on its own. It is a tricky balance to maintain, but one that I feel Peters pulled off very effectively.

While the amnesia storyline was handled for the most part very well, this book does highlight a trend for my views on the series as a whole.  I understand that perhaps the author was concerned that the happy and stable relationship between Amelia and Emerson might come across as tired, book after book, and she felt compelled to throw wrenches into the work. But the two books were this tactic was more prominently used (this story with the amnesia, and “Deeds of the Distruber” where there is much confusion and distrust between the two) were both on the lower end of my ratings. I still very much enjoyed them, but I, at least, don’t need relationship drama from this series to remain interested and when it’s present, it doesn’t add much to the series as a whole.

But, as I said, I still very much enjoyed it and am happily looking forward to the next!

Rating 7: Relationship shenanigans aside, an interesting mystery and a nice tie-in to the previous book.

Reader’s Advisory:

The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Villain Was Interesting” and “Mysteries with great humor.”

Find “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon”

Serena’s Review: “Ghostly Echoes”

28110857Book: “Ghostly Echoes” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016

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

Book Description: Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Review: Trekking right along with my read through of the Jackaby series, “Ghostly Echoes” starts off basically right where “Beastly Bones” leaves off. Jenny, the local friendly ghost whose murder has went unsolved for a decade, has finally decided to take things into her own hands. Literally. She actually learns how to pick up things. But this is an important step, and one that coincides with the return of murders that seem to match the M.O. of her own assailant many years ago.

This book represents an interesting turning point in the series so far. Up to this point, the books have been largely stand-alone novels. Sure, a few things will be referenced here and there, but very few plot lines carry through directly from one book to the other. However, in the last book, Ritter laid the groundwork for a “big bad” to best all “big bads.” And one who had been operating in the background all along. Here, we find this is very true, with the plot lines from not only its direct prequel, “Beastly Bones,” but also from the first book in the series, “Jackaby,” being tied together to a larger mystery.

However, this book was very hit and miss for me, tonally. Ritter was essentially wanting to have his cake and eat it too with this one. The larger plot line and mystery were intriguing. Both Jenny’s burgeoning abilities to operate in the real world, the murders that seem so similar to her own, and the clues that begin to point to a strange organization that is operating with its own nefarious agenda were interesting. There was a lot to get through just with this main story line.

But Ritter had also to pay off the set-up he had built with the previous two books where readers expect to find wit, strange beasts, and madcap adventures. All of these bits, while good, seemed to fit in strangely with the more serious tone of this book. I found myself getting pulled one way and the other when the book would veer back and forth between the main story and the smaller interactions that, while important to the overall plot, felt more light and oddly out of line with the rest of the story.

As I mentioned in my last review of the series, the story is at its best when the character of Jackaby is used sparingly. He did have more page time in this story than the last, but this book also did a lot of work building up his past and making him into a more three dimensional character with deeper inner struggles than the simple “wacky Doctor-like” character he has been presented as for the last two books. I was happy to see him becoming more of a character than a plot point.

Towards the end, Ritter did seem to find his footing a bit better, sending Abigail off on an adventure of her own. However, Abigail probably was the least served character by this change of pace to the series. As I mentioned above, Jackaby’s past and character are fleshed out more fully. Jenny becomes an actual character in her own right beyond simply being a friendly ghost and friend to Abigail. But Abby herself? Largely it just feels like she was there to narrate the story to us. And while she does get her own action, it is only that: action. There didn’t feel like there was a lot of character development for her in this book, which I sadly missed. Also Charlie! He was barely there!

So, in conclusion, this book was a bit of a mixed bag. I very much liked the added depth that was given to the greater story line that now pulls through all the books in the series. And Jackaby himself is a more intriguing character now that it has been revealed that he is more than just a quirky, gimmick. But my favorite character, and the main character of the series, was left dangling a bit. And tonally, the book was a bit all over the place, teetering between a more serious larger plot line, and the expected wackiness established in the first two books.

The next and final book comes out this summer, however, and I am still excited to see how Ritter wraps up this all up!

Rating 7: Some imbalanced highs and lows make for a mixed bag read, but still a strong series overall!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostly Echoes” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Historical Mysteries”and should be on this list “YA Mythology Challenge.”

Find “Ghostly Echoes” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “Jackaby” and “Beastly Bones”