Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion”

34690764Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 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 Bombshells battle new enemies showing up out of the woodwork… and a Bombshell we haven’t seen since the Battle of Berlin shows up to help!
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. 5. Collects #26-29 and the DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS ANNUAL #1.

Review: Ever since I discovered the “DC Bombshells” series, I’ve kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Far too often do I find a comic series that I love, and inevitably have to have that moment of ‘oh, that was kind of lame’. It happens for most series and it’s by no means a bad thing! Sometimes there will be volumes that feel out of step with the others, and I’ve come to expect it and by no means hold it against the series as a whole. But for five volumes running, “DC Bombshells” hasn’t lost it’s step or it’s groove, and now we are at “The Death of Illusion” and I am STILL thrilled with almost everything about it as a whole.

We are now at the point where we can’t cover all of the characters in each volume, as there are too many and the cast is ever expanding. So while Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Renee Montoya, and the Gotham Batgirls sat this one out for the most part (more on that in a bit), we refocussed on a few familiar faces who had been away, some for a long time. Most importantly to me, we see the returns of Ivy and Harley, who are now an established lesbian power couple and leaving Atlantis to try and stop a famine in Russia, as Ivy plans to grow food for them. I already have to gush and geek out about this. I LOVE that in these stories, there is just as much creation as there is destruction. The women in this series are not only fighting to save the world, they are also trying to nurture the world back to life. It’s lovely and positive and a testament to the power of ladyfriends! With this plot line we get to see the less talked about ravages of war, specifically the starvation in Leningrad.

We also get the return of Supergirl, which was both excellent and bittersweet. Kara is still very much in mourning over her sister Stargirl, and she and Steve Trevor find themselves in the clutches of Doctor Hugo Strange. Supergirl teams up with Lois Lane, who has her own reasons for wanting to take revenge on Strange, and they both have to face their pasts and those that they are mourning if they hope to defeat this madman who has violated them both in various ways. I liked that Kara’s trauma regarding Kortni dying is still very present, as it shows that she is very much human as well as Kryptonian. With war comes loss and with loss comes grief, and I love that Bennett is showing that these costs take great tolls, even on the strongest of us all. And along with this plotline comes the first of the two debuts that made me freak out. I don’t really want to spoil it here, because it was a gasp worthy reveal, but…… OKAY FINE,

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(source)

SUPERMAN IS HERE, GUYS!! SUPERMAN IS HERE!!! But worry not, because while he has made his debut, much like Arthur Curry he does not step on any toes while doing so. While I’m sure it’s tempting to make him the focus, as he is, after all, the iconic Superman, this is still very much more Kara’s story than his, and he is staying in his lane as of right now.

Our universe expands again in this volume, as we go back to see Amanda Waller, who is one of the leaders of the Bombshells. She is tracking down a reclusive figure, a French woman who was a flying ace during WWI, but then disappeared into the swamps of Louisiana after her lover Luc vanished and was presumed dead. She hires Frankie Charles to go and find this strange woman. And who, is this strange woman?

Guys. Batgirl has arrived.

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I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT!! (source)

And not only is she here, but her storyline opens up a whole new set of possibilities involving her, Waller, Frankie, and The Suicide Squad. That’s right, WE ARE GETTING THE SUICIDE SQUAD!!!!!! I was admittedly hoping a bit for Secret Six (if Scandal Savage ended up in these pages I would absolutely DIE), but this is also excellent.

So yes, the shoe has not dropped yet and “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death Illusion” has only upped the stakes when it comes to this series. It’s flying so high, and while I’m still terrified that it’s going to come crashing down, it has yet to do so. It oozes positivity and girl power, and it continues to be one of the most empowering and fun comics out there.

Rating 9: With the returns of Supergirl, Ivy, and Harley, along with the debuts of some familiar faces, “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” continues the streak of excellence.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” is fairly newish and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would be good on “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “The Hippopotamus Pool”

126730Book: “The Hippopotamus Pool” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, June 1997

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

Book Description: A masked stranger offers to reveal an Egyptian queen’s last tomb… and Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archaeologist husband are intrigued, to say the least. When the guide mysteriously disappears before he tells his secret, the Emersons sail to Thebes to follow his trail, helped – and hampered – by their teenaged son, Ramses, and beautiful ward, Nefret. Before the sands of time shift very far, all will be risking their lives foiling murderers, kidnappers, grave robbers, and ancient curses. And the Hippopotamus Pool? It’s a legend of war and wits that Amelia is translating, one that alerts her to a hippo of a different type – a nefarious, overweight art dealer who may become her next archenemy!

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” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.”

Review: This is the most privileged-person reading problem ever: how do I continue to find creative ways of praising these books and this author without just sinking into repetitive gushing?? It’s problem, people.

Let’s just say that the strengths of this series are just as present in this book as they have been in the many before it. Amelia is ever the entertaining heroine (I’ve been listening to the audiobook version for the past several books, and it’s almost impossible now to separate the Amelia of the page and the Amelia that is brought to life with Barbara Rosenblatt’s expert and canny reading of her). Emerson, an excellent romantic hero, foibles and all.  A mystery, complicated and full of new suspects. Villains, some old and some new.

But I will focus on a few of the newer bits of this story. For one, while there is comfort in the stability of Amelia, Emerson, and their relationship, it’s a nice balance to have it contrasted with the ever-evolving lives of their children. Ramses and Nefret are now teenagers, Ramses on the young teen side and Nefret right smack in the middle, an especially complicated age for a young woman of fortune.

For his part, Ramses is beginning to evolve his relationship from child-with-adults to putting out feelers establishing himself as an independent entity. His changing relationship with his parents is perfectly illustrated in small changes (calling them “mother and father” rather than “mama and papa”). But also comes into play in larger ways as he pushes for independence and respect. However, Ramses’s relationship with them is firmly bound in familial love and respect. So these struggles often present themselves instead in strained interactions with his “sister” Nefret.

The two are at a perfect point for frustration. Sixteen and fourteen are around the exact ages when two years represents a world of difference and both the older and younger sibling struggle. In this case, it is all the more challenging in the fact that while Nefret has been adopted by the Emersons, she is not their natural born daughter.

Peters strikes the perfect balance in this sibling relationship. They bicker and argue like all the best siblings, but there is also a clear underlying tension in the knowledge of their non-typical family relationship. Further, Nefret is still adjusting to life in British Society, with all of the ridiculous rules and impositions that come with it. Yes, she’s growing up with a “mother” who shirks much of this (lucky for Nefret!),  but society itself has a way of pushing back, this time in the form of “suitors.”

I particularly loved Amelia’s attempts to parent a young daughter. She went from having one child, a very non-typical boy, at that. To having a pre-teen daughter who came with the added complications of being smart, headstrong, beautiful, and an heiress. But like anything, Amelia is up to the task. Theirs is a very nice example of female relationships, both maternal and friendly.

As I said, most of these stories come with the addition of new characters and you never quite know which ones are “one offs” or which are there to stay. We had Nefret introduced recently, but Peters wasn’t done there! Here we have the addition of David, a young boy (around Ramses’s age) who is loosely related to Abdullah, but through various mishaps has lead a life estranged from his family and raised to a life of crime. This will not do, of course! Particularly since Ramses forms a close, brotherly bond with David throughout this book. I feel confident that David is a character that is here to stay, and I’m excited to see what role he falls into in this strange family.

Beyond characters, this story is one of the first in a while to truly delve into a major dig, this time with the discovery of a queen’s tomb. While Egyptology is always important to these stories, there are varying degrees in each. I very much enjoyed having another mystery focused so closely on a dig.

Lastly, this book tackles some difficult topics with the sudden death of Evelyn and Walter’s infant child. Through Amelia’s eyes we see Evelyn’s struggle with this loss, the strain that is put on her and Walter’s marriage, and the process of living through grief. This also leads to Evelyn and Walter playing a much larger role in this book than they have for quite a long time. While the reason was tragic, I loved having these two characters back in a book. Evelyn especially. Not only does Amelia’s relationship with her lead to a deeper exploration of loss and depression, but Evelyn also rises through it into a role that was surprising and fun to read. Walter, on the other hand, had moments where I wanted to slap him upside his head. I can’t quite remember whether he always had some of the tendencies he put on display in this book, or whether this is evidence of Peters evolving his character over time and through experience. Don’t get he wrong, however, I still finished the book enjoying his character.

Well, hopefully I managed to cover some new ground in my praise of this book! But really, I’ll take the challenge of tricky reviews for the assurance of enjoyable novels any day. For fans of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, this is yet another to check out!

Rating 8: Yet another excellent story. This one tackles some tough issues, but handles them well and introduces another (hopefully!) main character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hippopotamus Pool” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries” and “Archaeology Novels.”

Find “The Hippopotamus Pool” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

Serena’s Review: “All the Crooked Saints”

30025336Book:  “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Review: I have been a fan of Stiefvater for a while now. I have  distinct memory of picking up “Shiver” like ten years ago before she was a big name in the YA community and very much enjoying it. But what makes her special, in opinion, is the way she has grown as an author in the year’s between. Every book I’ve read by her seems to be better than the last: the plotting more meticulous, the characters more fleshed out, and, most importantly, the lyrical, poetic style of her writing more beautiful and heartbreaking than ever before. All of this remains true for her latest novel “All the Crooked Saints.”

When Pete wanders into the Bicho Raro ranch, he’s only there to work off the price of a box truck that he hopes to use to start a moving business. He’s heard something about miracles, owls, and saints on his way, but not until he arrives does he fully understand. Now, surrounded by pilgrims whose miracles were not what they expected, Pete finds himself becoming entranced by the entire Soria family, but particularly the “emotionless” Beatriz.

While I have framed my summary around Pete, there is no one character who serves as a central point for the story, truly. Perhaps the Soria family as a whole? Throughout what is really a very small book, I found myself sinking down deeply into this strange family, their history, and the beautiful imagery and philosophy behind what constitutes a miracle. We learn bits about every one of the Soria family, their hopes, their fears, what has them, like the pilgrims around them, seemingly stuck with their first miracle, unsure how to move forward.

Stiefvater’s creativity is boundless. The entire concept is beautiful and terrifying, terrifyingly beautiful, just like the stark desert in which the story takes place. The miracles that the pilgrims experience are surprising and new: twin sisters caught in a tangle of snakes, a man who is growing moss, a woman covered in butterflies whose own personal cloud dumps rain on her head constantly. What makes this all the more special is that we can see how these miracles (lessons) connect to the darkness each of these characters are walking through, but none of them are too on the nose or expected. It would have been very easy for this idea to slip into the trite.

Beyond this, the characters are all gloriously complicated, damaged, and lovely. It’s a true testament of skill to not only work in a complicated magic system, fill the pages with beautiful prose that speaks to complicated philosophies and theologies, as well as create a large cast of characters that all have their own distinct story and appeal, all within such a short page count.

Pete, hard-working, but feeling betrayed by a heart to weak to allow him to serve his country in the military, like his family before him. Beatriz, too comfortable with her own lack of emotions. Joaguin, with dreams of being bigger than his little life on the ranch, feeling the judgement of a family who may deem him frivolous. And Daniel, the current Saint, whose parents died due to their darkness and by breaking the taboo to help the pilgrims who visit them. And while these are our “main” characters, the generation of Sorias before them, too, get their own snips of chapters and histories, loves and heartbreaks.

Throughout this all Stiefvater delves into the meaning of family, questions what makes up love, and explores the courage and fear that comes with recognizing what is dark within ourselves. And, importantly, how necessary this process is, for everyone.

I feel like this review may have been all over the place, but I truly don’t know how to best portray the beauty that was this story. Thinking back on it, I mostly see images: barren, but vivid landscapes of the desert, owls grouped on a porch, strange beings wandering among scattered out-buildings, and a family, gathered closely together, but somehow apart and drifting alone. If you’ve read any of Stiefvater’s work in the past, this will all make more sense to you, knowing her skill and particular style of writing. And if you haven’t, this is an excellent place to start, as a stand-alone book that perfectly illustrates all the gifts Stiefvater has to offer.

Rating 9: Vivid and gorgeously rendered, but challenging readers to look deeper within themselves and wonder “What would my miracle look like?”

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Crooked Saints” is fairly new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads.”

Find “All the Crooked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “City of Lies”

342865371Book: “City of Lies” by Victoria Thompson

Publishing Info: Berkley, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.

She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son Gabriel is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. She knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gabriel. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time within this gilded orbit, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.

Review: Victoria Thompson is a very prolific mystery author, with another long-running steampunk series, that somehow I’ve completely missed! But, as nice as it is to discover a new author with a long-running series, it’s also a bit intimidating to look at as a whole. With that in mind, I was thrilled to learn that she was starting a new series just this fall. Problem solved: get in at the beginning of this series and have another series to happily follow for years to come! Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, you also have to enjoy the first book for this long-game plan to really work. And while there are pieces that I enjoyed here and there, “City of Lies” just didn’t do it for me.

The story starts off well enough with readers meeting Elizabeth Miles in the midst of a complicated con. These first few chapters started off so promising. This entire con, and the role that Elizabeth plays within it, is smart, snappy, and intriguing. She is presented as an independent and wily woman making her way through the world in maybe not the most ethical manner, but one that is definitely interesting to read about. And then the con goes wrong and she finds herself on the run, and suddenly caught up with a group of women protestors. And right away, the book went off the tracks for me.

While those first few chapters were short, they did a lot to convince me that Elizabeth was a heroine who was canny and had managed to make a life for herself in a way that is only accessible to the brave and street smart. But once she’s on the run, I immediately began questioning all of her decisions. Was getting arrested (and then shipped far, far away to another prison), really the best way to avoid goons chasing her down the street? I mean, I’ve seen “The Bourne Identity” probably more times than I should admit, so I’m all for the “get lost in the protestors” method of evasion. But notably, “go to prison and then buy into a hunger strike” is never a part of his plans. And if Bourne’s not doing it, neither should you!

Part of the problem was that I never became very interested in the women that Elizabeth meets here. I had to repeatedly page back to remind myself what was distinctive about each of them. And while, obviously, their protest movement is historically important, it just read as…blah. Which almost seems like a feat in and of itself.

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What I’m saying is Leslie Knope did it better. (source)

I was also not digging the romance. This book seems to walk the line between many different genres (historical, mystery, romance), but isn’t fully committing to the common expectations of any of them. The romance was too chaste. The history was too plan. The con/mystery element fell to the way side (also the original book description on Goodreads is completely misleading , referencing Elizabeth chasing down a killer in D.C., which isn’t right at all).

While Thompson’s writing seems solid, this book simply didn’t seem to have much new to say or offer for any of the genres that it covers. And Elizabeth, who started strong, quickly fell into a character rife with confusion and unclear motivations. As I haven’t read Thompson’s other series, I can’t say if some of these complaints may just be that her writing style and storytelling choices just aren’t for me or whether this is an outlier from her previous  books. Maybe some time I’ll pick up one of those and see, but this book lands solidly in the middle of the road for me. I didn’t hate it, but I also won’t remember it. For fans of Thompson, however, and perhaps those who like more chaste historical romances, this might be worth checking out?

Rating 5: In one word: bland.

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Lies” is a new title and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Most Anticipated Historical Mysteries for 2017.”

Find “City of Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)”

29069374Book: “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” by Emil Ferris

Publishing Info: Fantagraphics, February 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ’60s Chicago, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the fictional graphic diary of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography. Karen Reyes tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, while the interconnected stories of those around her unfold. When Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anka’s life in Nazi Germany, the reader discovers how the personal, the political, the past, and the present converge. Full-color illustrations throughout.

Review: I remember the moment that I first laid eyes on the book “My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Vol.1)”. I was unloading boxes of new books at work, and I literally gasped when I saw it. I mean, my GOD. Just look at this cover. THAT IS ALL BALLPOINT PEN, GUYS. And plus, it has ‘monsters’ in the title. My boss said she was surprised that the request wasn’t for me, and I admitted that I hadn’t even heard of it. So I said that I was going to request it…. And then I didn’t. It entered in and out of my mind for the next few months, until I was at a staff training and it was on the shelf. So… I grabbed it. I wish that I had grabbed it sooner. Because “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” was just amazing.

I mean, I just need to talk about the art. Like I said, this is all done in pen, and it just pops off the page. It’s seriously astounding. The detail and the coloring, as I kept turning page after page in this book I just kept saying ‘wow’ as I would see a new image that took my breath away. Ferris really dives into her artwork, and the painstaking detail is so evident up close, while seeming to be a la Robert Crumb from a further distance. It’s a style that I really enjoy, and while it seems to be a little surrealistic in some ways, in other ways it was so human and so real. There are images of people, images of monsters, and images of urban landscapes that all take their own lives through her style. She also draws classic artwork through this lens, when Karen and her brother Deeze go to the art museum in Chicago, and seeing these works recreated in this style was also incredible. I loved the use of colors as well, as sometimes she would draw characters certain shades to describe different feelings. The premise is that these are the drawings of our ten year old narrator within her lined journal, and even that is consistent and well laid out.

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I mean, it’s just gorgeous, right? (source)

The story itself if both a charming and bittersweet coming of age story, and a gut punch and tense mystery. Karen, or narrator, is a ten year old girl who is quite precocious in a lot of ways, and fancies herself as a Wolfman-esque monster who takes on the role of detective. I gotta say, the images of this little Wolf-creature in a trench coat is precious and funny, Seeing her try to piece together the possible murder of her upstairs neighbor, Anka, is classic bildungsroman in it’s premise, but in it’s execution it feels fresh. Karen is delightful, as her imagination sparks on the pages and her personality shines as she starts to learn more about those around her and learn more about herself. You also get to see late 1960s Chicago and all of it’s political turmoil through her eyes, which gives it a unique, and even more heart wrenching, perspective (I’m thinking of one specific scene where she is very nearly sexually assaulted by some bullies in her neighborhood, and she just writes about it matter of factly and as if it’s just something that could happen, but didn’t, so life goes on. It’s rough.). Karen loves monsters, and is starting to learn that monsters are very real, but not in the way that she would like them to be. We hear of an see violence and racism around her, and we see her reaction (and the reaction of her friend Franklin, an African American boy) to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Her family life isn’t easy by any means, as Dad is out of the picture, her older brother Deeze is loving but reckless, and their mother is kind and gentle but has some problems Karen isn’t quite privy to, though the reader is. We also see the struggles of being a lower class family of multiracial descent, as the fact that Karen and her brother Deeze are part Latino and part Native is thrown at them by the white people around them from time to time. Struggles and all, I loved this family, and it’s tenuousness made me love them even more, and ache for them as well.

The mystery of Anka’s death is one of the main themes of this book, and we see some of her own childhood mirrored in Karen’s through diary entries. Anka came of age in Weimar Germany, and as a young woman was taken to a concentration camp because she was Jewish. This story is another example of monsters in this world, and the rumors of a potential Nazi in town is one of the threads in the mystery that Karen is hoping to solve. But to tell you the truth, even though this mystery is ongoing (as there is another volume of this coming out next summer!), I’m more interested in the journey getting there and Karen learning things about Anka and the world around her then actually finding out who killed her.

There is one storyline that I’m not quite feeling as of right now, and that involves Karen and her friend Sandy, a malnourished little girl who may actually be a ghost. But hey, I suppose in a book about monsters it doesn’t hurt to have something of the supernatural there to shake things up.

Rating 9: A sumptuous and beautiful book with a gripping mystery, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” is a great book and a huge achievement. The art is gorgeous, the story is bittersweet and haunting, and I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Comic Books and Graphic Novels of 2017”, and “NPR’s 100 Favorite Graphic Novels and Comics”.

Find “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Silver in the Blood”

22929540Book: “Silver in the Blood” by Jessica Day George

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2015

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

Book Description: Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

Review: I’ve read a few of Jessica Day George’s books, mostly her fairytale retellings. I’ve enjoyed them for the most part, even if the middle grade tone read as a bit simplistic for my taste. But when I stumbled upon this original fairytale type story featuring some of my favorite things (sisters/cousins! shapeshifters! Romania!), I knew I’d need to dive right in.

The story alternates perspectives between two American-born heiresses, Dacia and Lou. Their mothers both emigrated to New York from Romania, and now it is time for the girls to travel back to this homeland and meet their maternal family, a family that is old and has many secrets. The chapters are broken up with short interludes, either letters written between the two characters when they are separated, journal entries, or news entries.

While not everything worked for me in this book, Dacia and Lou as characters were a definite highlight. Both girls have distinct story arcs, and I appreciated the fact that neither was allowed to wallow in the stereotypes of the characters type they are originally introduced as. Dacia starts the story as a confident, independent young woman, constantly testing the boundaries that are set upon her and fearless in the face of others’ disapproval. Lou, however, is more thoughtful, reserved, and cautious with the route she takes through life. Through the story Dacia’s confidence, or over confidence, is shaken and she must confront who she believes she is and make serious adjustments. Lou, on the other hand, comes into her own, discovery her own inner strength.

And, importantly, each girl takes turns supporting or being supported by the other. In the beginning I worried that this was going to follow a typical path where Lou would be “brought out of her shell” by her brilliant, shining cousin. But I was pleased to see their roles swapped, and by the end, each girl has learned more about herself and come to see the value in the others’ original approach to life.

I also very much enjoyed the setting. While we don’t get a lot of detail about the city and countryside of Romania, there was enough to highlight its cultural differences to Paris and New York, the girls’ other points of reference. The family history, hierarchy, and creativity of the actual shapeshifter types was also a pleasant surprise. We don’t only have wolf shifters, but bats and another mysterious type that we discover halfway through. It was refreshing to find a shapeshifter story that expanded upon many of teh tropes we are used to seeing. George introduces a complicated history for the Florescus family, one that is intimately connected with another ancient family, the Draculs. And before you guess, I will say that this second part doesn’t necessarily play out the way you would expect!

For all of these pros, there were a few points of this story I found myself struggling with. One was, again, the writing style. While Dacia and Lou are interesting, their narrating voices often read as younger than they were presented to be. The general tone of the book, again, read as very middle grade. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that in other ways the story is very adult. There are some very serious scenes dealing with sexual violence, battles, and straight up murder. This gruesomeness and darker tone jarred with the light and rather simplistic style of writing that surrounded it and often through me off balance as I was reading.

I also struggled with the villain of the story. He was just evil. And crazy. And while yes, this is what we expect from villains, his sheer and utter madness often left me unable to take him seriously. Many of his plans dealt with inflicting harm or reigning in the power of people who were much stronger than him. Some of his threats didn’t make any logical sense if you thought about it. So, yes, he was meant to be a crazy character. But the fact that everyone around him reacted to his madness seriously at times read as very strange. His threats were so completely empty and the solution to the whole problem so easy that it very much undercut any actual urgency for the final act.

The ending was also a bit unclear. There seemed to be several loose ends that were left hanging, and I can’t find anywhere that this was ever meant to read as more than just a standalone. The storylines that we did get wrapped up were closed all too quickly and easily. And I felt that there were many important scenes that were only referenced but left off the page, which was very disappointing.

So, while I did enjoy the main characters and the unique take on shapeshifter mythology, I was left a bit disappointed  by this read. At this point, I think it is probably best to just admit that George’s writing style is not to my taste and leave it at that. However, if you enjoy light (for the most part??) historical fantasy that is set in a unique locale and features two awesome ladies, this still might be the book for you!

Rating 6: Two strong characters and an interesting magic system weren’t enough for me to get past some of the strange plot choices in the end and an off-putting writing style.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silver in the Blood” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Shapeshifter/Werewolf books” and “Victorian Paranormal YAs.”

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Serena’s Review: “The Beautiful Ones”

335741431Book: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book from NetGalley

Book Description: In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.

Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.

Review: Like my recent review of “The Goblins of Bellwater,” I think this book is another example of a poorly written book description. Unlike “Goblins” which read more as contemporary romance, the more true genre focus (historical romance) of this book happens to be one that I enjoy and was particularly in the mood for, thus coloring my reaction to this initial misdirection. Like in that case, however, I do think both of these books would be better received had they been marketed more appropriately to the groups of readers who are true fans of these types of books.

I know that “fantasy” is kind of going through a boom right now, but targeting every book towards that community when there may only be the barest hint of actual fantasy elements in your book, is unlikely to be met with a positive reaction. This book, for example, is presented as if it is going to be a “fantasy apprenticeship” type book, leading the reader to assume much of the book is about Nina learning to navigate her own abilities. Not so. This is much more closely aligned with historical romance fiction with a brief dash of fantasy.

Getting off that soap box and on to the review itself! As I mentioned above, “The Beautiful Ones” ticked many boxes for me, and the fact I was surprised by the story I was getting almost added to my personal enjoyment. Nina is has come to the city to experience her first Grand Season. Under the tutelage of her glittering and popular married cousin Valerie, she soon comes to realize that she does not fit the typical mold of a debutante. Luckily, she meets Hector Auvrey, a performer who has leveraged his own telekinetic powers to raise himself to position and influence. But Hector and Valerie have a history of their own.

The story is told from the perspectives of all three characters, something that I was initially skeptical of (my own personal preference is always to follow one main character), but I quickly grew to love this format. Nina, Valerie, and Hector all have distinct voices and are fully realized characters of their own, each with strengths, weaknesses, and their own agendas. Valerie, in particular, is the type of villainous character who you simply love to hate. And Hector is the perfect example of a flawed hero. Nina, on the other hand, may have read as a bit too perfect, but her naivete and the growth she goes through, particularly in the last half of the story, are enough to keep her from falling into a “special snowflake” category. Further, with Valerie and Hector being as frustrating as they were at times, Nina’s chapters proved a bit of a relief.

We all know my feelings on instalove plot lines (recently I DNF’d “Juliet Immortal” for committing this sin in the most blatant way, choosing to not even review the book on this blog out of sheer and utter frustration). “The Beautiful Ones” seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s answer to this trend. It serves as a perfect rebuttal to all the things that are wrong with an instalove storyline. Not only is the main romance a slow burn story, based on many interactions, and taking place over a full year, but the failures of previous romances that followed the instalove equation are fully explored and the repercussions are serious.

This book is almost completely character driven. There is little action (other than balls and visits to the country side). The fantasy elements of this story are very minimal. You could remove them all together, honestly, and not much would change in this story. There are many scenes of characters simply talking to each other. In this way, it is a slow read, and yet, loving this genre as I do, I blew through it in a day. If you enjoy historical romances, ala Jane Austen, this is the perfect book for you!

Rating 9: A complete and utter surprise with characters you couldn’t help but root for, both to succeed and fail miserably!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beautiful Ones” is on these Goodreads lists: “2017 Latinx/Latin American SFF” and “Fantasy of Manners.”

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