Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review: Cantero’s “Meddling Kids”

First things first, I recently posted about my love for tea and as much as I hate that the internet monitors my searches, it sure does benefit me from time to time. Pinterest recommended a monthly tea subscription service and I got my first delivery a few weeks ago. I was able to tell them about my aversion to cloves and got a very kind “Welcome!” email from the CEO and the Facebook group community. My first style was an Orange Blossom Black Tea and it is so fragrant and delish! They also have a shop with lots of other varieties (all hand blended without any unwanted, mass market additions) and tons of covet-worthy accessories. I’m in love and already spreading the recommendation far and wide, hither and yon. Very much looking forward to my next delivery in a week or so. I was going to put this at the end, but it’s important to talk about what you love.

 


I recently finished Edgar Cantero’s novel Meddling Kids and, overall, I very much enjoyed it. But it made me think: why must there always be a love interest? Why?!?

From the moment I found out that this novel existed, I was excited to read it. It ticked several of my boxes, being inspired by my childhood obsession (Scooby-Doo and the Gang) and containing elements of the supernatural and true crime. I want to say I first hear about it on a list of books that “will legit scare you;” it did not scare me even remotely, but it was a good mystery/thriller, nonetheless.

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
 

For a while, I was worried that it might risk irritating me, since I was far from casual about my love for Scooby-Doo. Call it what it is: obsession. Sometimes, if things based on beloved originals take too many liberties, it risks offending the sensitive feelings of the fans, especially if formerly innocent teen characters are portrayed as drug-addicted, alcoholic, suicidal, mentally unstable twenty-somethings. However, I went into it knowing it was one person’s interpretation, so if it didn’t parallel my interpretation, or at least entertain me, I could always opt-out.

At times, the supernatural elements got a little eye-roll-inducing. However, it was at least consistent. It didn’t pepper it in there for occasional flavor; it established a supernatural element pretty early and maintained the “wtf is happening”-ness, but it at least had the decency to have the characters acknowledge the oddness of it all. Cantero meshed some characters, so that both of the girls had Daphne elements and both had Velma elements. Fred’s character (they have different names) was dead but still an active participant (hello, supernatural), and Shaggy’s was decidedly un-Shaggy-like throughout. He made the characters his own while still leaving “Easter eggs” of relevance for the die-hard Scooby fans. I’m also a big fan of a mystery that surprises me; I get a little bummed when I figure out the big reveal before-hand. I didn’t see this one coming and it was a nice surprise.

So that just leaves the ill-fitting love story. Why did that have to exist? In no way is it a spoiler for me to reveal that there was something of a lesbian interest constantly bubbling on a back-burner. That was made evident within the first few pages. However, this was one of those rare, end-of-the-world scenarios that was somehow overshadowed by inconsequential arguments and confusing emotions. These “kids” would find out that supernatural beings exist, and they’d put a pin in that in order to get to the more pressing matter of someone unexpectedly saying the l-word. And what’s with the unrealistic depiction of a girl who is loved by and lusted for by every single other character?!? Please. Enough.

I have little patience for jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn’t fit in order to appeal to more readers, and this just felt like pandering. It’s as though Cantero wrote a perfectly love-free novel and his publishers went back and said, “okay, but this won’t appeal to people who like love stories, so we need to force that in somehow.” No, you don’t. Some books appeal to some people but very few (a.k.a. none) appeal to all, so why taint those that truly appeal to one audience by diluting them with essence-of-other-people’s-interests? The love story was uncomfortable and inorganic, and after suffering through it for 300 pages, it wasn’t even resolved in a way that offered a satisfying ending. They have a VERY rocky road ahead of them.

I won’t even go into my thoughts on a thirty-something male writing the perspective of a teen lesbian. I’m going to let that sleeping dog lie.

Anyway, I gave it four stars, since the overall experience was a pleasant one. Worse comes to worst, I can always skim sections that are dripping with unnecessary sappiness. Am I alone in this?

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L: Reviews of Smith’s “Grasshopper Jungle” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Lots to talk about, so let’s get started.

Review of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle:

First things first:

This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it. You know what I mean.

In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

Immediate thoughts upon finishing: “Now THAT was an ending.” I’ve written before about how endings of books or series often feel like afterthoughts, like the author planned in vivid detail the exposition, rising action, and climax and then threw a good enough but unsatisfying resolution onto the end and called it a day. Smith’s ending to the long and complicated saga that was Grasshopper Jungle was completely unexpected and utterly satisfying.

Since the Goodreads synopsis was wildly insufficient, I’ll elaborate by saying that the main character is sixteen-year-old Austin, who is navigating puberty in an ungraceful but painfully honest chronicle of what he calls “the end of the world.” Austin dates Shann. Austin is in love with Shann. Austin’s best friend is Robby. Austin is also in love with Robby. As if that isn’t complicated enough, Austin and Robby accidentally set in motion a series of events that lead to a world-wide epidemic and they’re the only ones who can save the world.

Sounds familiar, right? Yes, it sounds like every other YA book where the world and the fate of humanity rests on only slightly qualified teens. That’s the popular fantasy: the hero’s journey; “in a world of 7 billion, I’m special.” I get it. We all want to feel like there is something that sets us apart, so it’s no wonder this is such a popular theme in YA lit. The thing about Grasshopper Jungle, though, is that it’s absolutely ridiculous and it knows it. Almost as though making fun of the hero’s journey, our narrator, Austin, is a freaking mess of a boy. He’s faced with the likely end of the world and all he can think about are typical teenage boy things; it’s unrealistic to assume that weight of the world suddenly forces maturity, so he’s thinking about the end of the world and also threesomes or whether presidents poop or what he should name his testicles or his Polish lineage.

I’ve seen people criticize that it’s too weird and it jumps around too much. Yes, it’s weird; no doubt about that. Yes, it jumps around. Smith incorporates so much backstory and ancestry and parallel character lines into the story that, at times, he spends a whole page describing all the many ways that everything is connected. Without knowing it, everything, everywhere, and everyone involved is connected. If you go into reading this seeing the value in that, you’ll be fine. Let me be clear in saying that this book will NOT bee for everyone. Read this if you like and/or don’t mind the following: YA Contemp. Lit, small town stories, sexuality exploration, heritage exploration, hero’s journey, giant bugs, graphic detail, adventure, and action. It was a little long for my taste and I often had trouble relating, but I never had trouble enjoying it.

Review of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale:”

Go ahead and start practicing your “sick” phone voice, because you need to call in sick to work tomorrow.

Last summer I read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and had a lot of feelings. I’ve been seeing the *COMING SOON* ads for Hulu’s adaptation of the tale and I finally penciled in a day where the hubby was away long enough for me to binge the three released episodes. Reliving this story is, again, an emotional rollercoaster. I refuse to say that the show is better than the novel. Won’t say it. I WILL, however, say that they are so incredibly different that I can’t imagine how I existed with only one instead of both.

I’ve been trying to think of how to verbalize how different they are and I think it hinges on seeing it. When you’re reading something, you visualize it; for Handmaid, visualizing it was about imagining what it would look like to be oppressed and owned. Offred gave detail in a way that almost felt blasé to me. I think that was purposeful, on Atwood’s part, since our narrator had been living in this oppressed state and was used to punishment going along with speaking out, standing up, or even remembering. Our narrator has to be cautious and callous, since failing to get her *ish* together could get her killed. I have never experienced Offred’s horrific circumstances nor have I (yet) lived in a society where I have anything but complete freedom. Thus, imagining and visualizing could only take me so far.

The show, however, forces perspective. Offred’s experiences are right in your face, for better or for worse, so you MUST acknowledge them for what they are. Raw. A Dystopia at its finest. While the book allowed you to escape since it felt like it was all in the past, the show forces you to parallel the society with today, meaning that you, the viewer, have to acknowledge that this regression of freedoms is still entirely possible. It lays it all out via flashbacks and inner thoughts, detailing how the government tricked the public into thinking that a terrorist cell attacked and individual rights are being suspended in order to protect citizens. You see the brutality; you see the consequences; you see respectable individuals fight and beg for today’s basic rights; you see the 1% thrive and the 99% suffer. This is exactly the show that we all need to be watching right now.

Has anyone else seen it? I got a lot of buzz on my review of the novel, so I’d love to know if those same souls and others have feelings on the show. Talk to me!

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L: White’s “And I Darken”

I’ll cut right to the chase: I didn’t like this book. I blame myself as much as I blame the book. I heard about this one when the publisher company was book talking new and upcoming releases at my local book store. Ultimately, I was under the impression that this would be a very different book than it ended up being and, unfortunately, the version in my head was way better than the reality.

How did I get the wrong impression? Well, the book talker may have given a synopsis and, in my desire for a killer book, I misunderstood and came up with my own assumptions. On the other hand, the book talker may not have actually read the book and book talked it according to what she thought the book would be, so my assumptions matched her misleading book talk. Regardless, I was under the impression that the book would have vampiric elements; not like Twilight-style, but similar to the original vampire story, Dracula. I feel as though that assumption is totally validated when the main character is the daughter of literature’s most famous vampire, Vlad Dracul. I was dead wrong.

Let’s review the blurb:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point

Nothing to indicate vampires in there, I agree. But still, don’t sass me about anticipating vampires in a book about Dracula. No, there was 0% vampiric activity; instead it was, honest to God, 90% feelings, which is decidedly not my jam. There was anger and resentment about being unhappy and there was anger and resentment about being happy. There were attempts to navigate the turbulent waters of sexuality, and there was crying. So much crying. Don’t get me wrong; I, too, have emotions and often enjoy seeing them reflected in my readings. But as is the case in real life, overdoing anything can result in a lack of poignancy. A smattering of emotions throughout the book would have been better than the pouring out of hearts on every page. I grew tired of it and it lost its meaning.

The other issue is that the character weren’t very likable to me. There is something to be said about feeling an emotional attachment, or maybe relating to a character. I saw nothing of myself in any of these characters and, on top of that, I did see reflections of personalities I generally find unlikable. Lada was meant to be a strong female protagonist, and sometimes she was, but other times, the character was so determined to be independent that she was often highly destructive to others and herself. Lada is not a female character that I would ever want young female readers to emulate. She had some serious self-damaging issues. The two other main characters were Lada’s brother, Radu, and their mutual friend/captor/whatever else he was, Mehmed. I didn’t like either of them, either. Radu started as a sniveling little whiny baby and grew up into a sniveling little whiny young man. He faced some issues, yes, and I gave him credit for being brave and mature when he earned it, but honestly, 75% of his presence is just self-pity and self-loathing. Now, would a troubled young man learn something from reading Radu’s story? I cannot say; I could never read from that perspective, myself. There may be some value in Radu’s story and some readers may relate to his trials and find solace. If so, AMAZING! Otherwise, I disliked him very much. Essentially, the same goes for Mehmed. He was an entitled brat who treated his friends like garbage and was so very emotional. No thanks.

This book contained constant displays of unhealthy relationships, not stopping with showing realistic depictions, but almost validating the extreme circumstances and making it seem as though the moral of the story was that love makes you miserable. Such may be the case in some instances, but it shouldn’t be lauded as the best way to love, nor the only way. Some love is mutual, respectful, unconditional. There was no such love in this story. Love did some serious damage in this book and I would hate to hand this book to a teen who is only just learning how to give and receive love, since I think it could do more to damage them than to help.

I wish I hadn’t bought this one. Usually, if I dislike a book, I can validate a purchase by making it a classroom library text, but I will need to keep a close watch on who is reading this one.

Has anyone else read it?! I’m honestly dying to know what others think and to talk with someone who liked it! Maybe I’m being too harsh? Talk to me!

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L: FEELINGS ABOUND: “HP & the Cursed Child”

Don’t worry, this is not a review. No chance of spoilers. I’m really just wanting to get some feelings out there, because HOT DANG, are there a lot of feelings coursing through my body right now. I don’t want to do a review, though, and I’ll tell you why. Before reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I knew very little about the subject, except that it takes place later and focuses on one of Harry’s kids. Truly, that was the extent of my knowledge. I could not be happier with that general lack of information, since every page contained surprises, mentions, cameos and more that gave me so much joy in each surprise.

 

I am a person who hates surprises, even good ones, for the most part. I want to be in the know, so much so that I made Hannah tell me who died in each HP book before I would read it. With each passing year, I think my brain ejects more and more of my memories in order make room for more emotions and feelings, much to my dismay. So, now, when confronted with a surprise, not only am I reminded of my lack of control of my life, but I also get really emotional about stupid things.

All this to say, I cried a great deal while reading this book. 90% of this is due to my obsession with the series and the unquantifiable amount of love that I feel for these characters, but also I think much of this can be attributed to my own memories of teen experiences and my worries for my future students. Life is hard for teens; relationships with parents can be… turbulent; now imagine being the son of The Boy Who Lived, and those difficulties understandably multiply. All in all, I’m so excited for me! I just read something I never thought would exist and it was every bit as powerful, progressive, mature, reminiscent, and individualized as I ever could have hoped it would be. But more than that, I truly cannot wait to put this into the hands of students. This book deals with some very relevant issues to which teens just seem to relate. Cursed Child does a great job of showing multiple perspectives, so maybe readers who relate to Albus Potter’s trials and tribs will gain perspective while reading Harry’s thoughts, and vice-versa.

Undoubtedly, this is a powerful read for adults and children, alike.

Now, let’s talk about the screenplay format. SO WHAT?! WHO CARES?! BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU GET!! Okay, done talking about that.

IMG_20160731_240409297_HDRYes, miracle of miracles, I did stay awake long enough to relive my days of youth by going to the midnight release. I wasn’t going to originally. I pre-ordered the book so access to a copy was never an issue and Honey Girl is getting to the point where at 10:05… I’m OUT! However, when I thought about it, I realized that I never thought I’d would get to do a midnight release of HP ever again, so passing on it just because I’m emotionally elderly just seemed ill-conceived. If anything is worth a late night, it’s a Harry Potter release. So I went and there is photographic proof.

On a sidebar to that, I now need to give a quick shout out to my mother for being the best mom in the world. We lived over an hour away from the nearest release location back in the day, so not only would she let me stay up and attend a midnight release with the rabid masses, but she would drive for over an hour to get my butt there and then drive for an hour back home (in complete silence since I was reading and needed silence). I live like 8 miles from Avid Bookshop, so that distance and prolonged sleepiness wasn’t even a factor and, still, I was effectively zombified by 10:30. She is a true champ and book enabler and she deserves a cake and a lifetime of gratitude. She already has the gratitude, so now I need to make her a cake.

Anyway, appreciate your parents, read it, and PLEASE someone discuss with me!!!!

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“Love This? Try This!” and Review – “Sleeping Giants”

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Poster: here; book: here

I wasn’t allowed to watch The X-Files when I was younger; you see, I was very impressionable. Still am. If you look back through the Shrews archives, you’ll see plenty of evidence of my ongoing problem with reverse-projection, or adopting the feelings of the characters in books/on TV. My parents assumed The X-Files would scare me, so I lived twenty-some odd years of my life sans-Mulder before my eyes were opened to the majesty of Fox and Dana, the Smoking Man, conspiracies aplenty, and the “I want to believe” poster. ***Sidebar: that new season?! Amazeness!!***

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is The X-Files in book form.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

The whole time I was reading this novel, I just could not get over how much it felt like The X-Files. It has science, government conspiracies, potential aliens, political intrigue, and a mysterious Puppet-Master; the only thing it’s missing is Mulder in 90’s jeans (YUM!).

But honestly, this was a very interesting read. Much akin to Illuminae, the format is a-typical, since the whole novel is told via interviews, journal entries, and military reports. This made it a very quick read but it also included a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo when interviewing certain characters, so I got bogged down a few times. Pierce Brown’s blurb likened it to Wier’s The Martian, which managed to subtly integrate science and math into an action packed sequence of events. Neuvel attempted to accomplish the same feat, but it wasn’t nearly as effortless and fluid. I ended up skimming over these parts instead of tolerating science long enough to subconsciously learn something.

Otherwise, I loved the format. I’d like to see more variance next time; about 90% of the story was told in interviews and I think more sources and more rotation would keep readers more interested. Illuminae did it best, but Secret Giants isn’t too far behind.

The main issue for me was that the characters were not particularly likable. This is partly due to the ways in which these characters were portrayed; some were cold and distant, some were psychopaths, some were pathetic, and the rest were entirely forgettable. Only one character was likable, but maybe that’s because I don’t often relate to the militaristic, emotionally damaged bossypants. The other possibility is that the unreliable narration did its job and I’m not sure whom I trust. This honestly may not be a problem for other readers, but it was a problem for me. I have a hard time committing, emotionally, to a book if I can’t forge a connection with any of the characters. Don’t believe me? Ask my review of The Girl on the Train.

Overall, 4 stars. It wasn’t a book that consumed my thoughts when I wasn’t able to read, but it was certainly an interesting and unique idea. It was moderately clean; minor sexual references; I don’t remember curse words… definitely a good choice for anyone interested in science, robotics, and/or aliens.

P.S. it’s the first in a series and the epilogue did a serious mic-drop DRAMA moment, so I’m jazzed to keep going!

I want to believe!!!

 

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L: Review of Wendy Spinale’s “Everland”

I don’t read a lot of re-tellings, so when Wendy Spinale’s Everland was in a stack of ARCs my professor had received from Scholastic for our class to review, I did not reach for it. Somehow, it followed me home, nonetheless, so I decided to give it a chance.

Forget the story of Peter Pan you know. Because in Everland, the only way to grow up is to survive.

London has been destroyed in a blitz of bombs and disease. The only ones who have survived are children, among them Gwen Darling and her siblings, Joanna and Mikey. They spend their nights scavenging and their days avoiding the ruthless Marauders — the German Army led by Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer.

Unsure if the virus has spread past England’s borders but desperate to leave, Captain Hook hunts for a cure, which he thinks can be found in one of the survivors. He and his Marauders stalk the streets snatching children for experimentation. None ever return. Until the day they grab Joanna. As Gwen sets out to save her, she meets a mysterious boy named Pete. Pete offers the assistance of his gang of Lost Boys and the fierce sharpshooter Bella, who have all been living in a city hidden underground. But in a place where help has a steep price and every promise is bound by blood, it will cost Gwen. And are she, Pete, the Lost Boys, and Bella enough to outsmart Captain Hook?

The names of the characters were the main tip-of-the-hat to the original story of Peter Pan. Some of them were obvious; it took very little effort for me to be like “ah yes, Mikey is Michael and Pete is Peter” et cetera, et cetera. Some of the other ones, while still glaringly obvious, were more subtle. Wendy became Gwen and the brother, John, needed to be female, so he became Joanna. Even Hook was still Hook, but it was a nickname for some four-part, uber German name.

When I started reading the book, the names were an irritation; it felt forced, as though the author was coddling the readers, reminding us not-so-subtly that her novel was an homage to the classic story. However, I have to admit that the names grew on me as the story progressed, since Spinale’s story was so vastly different from the classic. Without the inclusion of the names, the story would have shared the same central idea (the power of youth and the need to preserve it), but I’m not sure that the average reader would have noticed the parallel stories, nor the homage being paid to the classic.

Otherwise, the novel was quite interesting and well written. Since it was an ARC, I spotted a few editing errors here and there, but the writing was smooth, making the reading effortless. It was a quick read, not only because it’s short, but also because my interest was piqued throughout. The characters were developed into believable, sometimes likable, sometimes hatable teens. The main character was female, and I do feel as though the story leaned heavily towards female readers; it’s all about Gwen’s responsibility, Gwen’s mission, and Gwen’s unsurprising crush on Pete. Also, there’s a fairy on the sparkly gold cover, so… yeah. Having said that, though, the vast majority of the characters are male, there’s a cool, underground haven that boys will love, and there is a fair amount of murder most foul, crocodiles behaving badly, and guns that seem to call out to male readers (and females, I love that stuff).

Spinale managed to take an old, familiar story and turn it into something new and exciting. The main characters are teens and they go through a lot of friendship, relationship, and family trials that could be helpful for student readers who may be enduring the same things. Also, it’s entertaining! I’m giving it 3 Stars on the Lindsay scale, but 4 on the classroom library scale. I wouldn’t hesitate to put this into a few students’ hands!

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L: Review of Nova Ren Suma’s “The Walls Around Us”

I like books that pick a “thing” and just run with it, even if that “thing” isn’t necessarily my thing. Dinosaurs? Bring it on. Horses? OK, see you there. Focusing on a specific theme can maximize upon immediate appeal for horse- and dinosaur-loving readers, and it can offer insight for casual amateurs, like myself. However, themes should inform, never isolate, the novice reader, and I’m afraid that’s the vibe I got from Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us.

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

Did you notice the casual mention of dancing in the teaser above? It was all, “Nbd, there’s dancing.” Let me set the record straight: this novel is all about dancing. In the recipe that is The Walls Around Us, there’s like 1 teaspoon of murder to 6 cups of ballet references. We learn about the outfits, the hairstyles, the feelings onstage vs. the feelings offstage, the injuries, the tricks of the trade, and of course, the official names of the dance moves in all their French glory.

Now, I took dance classes in middle and high school, so I assumed I’d be fine. I can picture a pas de bourrée just as well as the next reader, and the murder mystery set in a Juvenile Detention Center really upped the appeal, so I took the bait. The dance-to-murder ratios, however, that were present in the teaser were essentially reversed in the story, so that my interest in the prison/murder plot line was overshadowed by the boring “Dance Life” story.

Aside from the focus on ballet, I found the storytelling to be a bit drawn out; the perspective swapped between two central characters, one of whom (the prisoner) seemed to spend her first 5 chapters telling the exact same story in different ways. The suspense built and built with each retelling of the same few moments, so that when explanation was finally given, it was utterly anti-climactic. It felt like an afterthought on the author’s part, as though Suma focused so heavily on the bizarre nature of those first few moments that she spent too little time coming up with a valid explanation for her readers. It was interesting, then exhausting, then disappointing.

My other qualm with The Walls Around Us was that it was an entirely realistic mystery novel until, BAM!, things got paranormal. I love paranormal things, so that is not my issue; the issue was that it seemed like another desperate grab for resolution on the author’s part, as though she had cooked up a scenario that could only be resolved through paranormal intervention. I’m convinced that Suma had the bare bones of a good story that she then insulated with literary packing-peanuts, just words and moments that took up space. “More dance references! Let me retell that story one more time! Hey, let’s throw some paranormal stuff in there!” No, Suma. You ruined it.

Good things? It was an original idea, I think. I haven’t read anything like it before, so it had that going for it. The writing was also crafted so that readers were often challenged to feel pity  for convicted felons. That takes some skill.

Otherwise, I do not recommend this novel to anyone; that’s not to say you wouldn’t enjoy it, though. Read it or don’t. See if I care.

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Morning Star”

To quote myself, “ALL THE FEELINGS THAT EXIST ARE HAPPENING IN MY BODY!!”

Thank Jove that I have friends with whom I can discuss the happenings of this novel, because I clearly cannot do it here and shower spoilers down upon you all. But I CAN discuss the roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced since starting this series in December. I need a Xanax.

I am feeling some type of way about these characters, the likes of which has not been felt since reading the Harry Potter books, ASoIaF, and LOTR. Please, do not take this statement lightly. I do not just throw around references to the favorites all willy-nilly, and I certainly don’t put anything on their level without due consideration. But dang. I have made the sacrifices; I have lost sleep, had murderous war dreams, cried like a little baby, been dooped, devastated, and overjoyed, and suffered a mild panic attack when things weren’t looking so “prime” for my book friends. The series now lives on my “All-Stars” shelf and let me tell you, it earned it.

As is always the problem with series works (except for the first), I can’t include the customary synopsis of the third and final book here since it might ruin the subsequent two for those who are climbing aboard the bandwagon. So it will have to suffice for me to talk about the feelings. The many, many feelings.

One thing that highlighted Brown’s prowess as a writer was that the readers were continually surprised. This third volume was exhausting for me, not least of all because, as I mentioned, I am emotionally invested in these characters and I needed to know whether we’d all make it safely through this together. However, the constant near-misses and political confrontations weren’t the only stress-inducers. Brown managed to lull readers into a sense of security (since we read from the main character’s perspective and thus thought we knew everything he knew) but Brown found the most heart-pounding ways to set readers straight and remind us that we’re not exempt from the surprises he has up his sleeve. I have to say, those moments of exclaiming “WHAT?! Why didn’t I know about this?!” were my favorites. Brown got me. He got me good.

Generally speaking, the final book in a series is usually a bit of a disappointment. It often feels as though the author exerted all his/her effort into establishing intrigue and conflict and then just got careless or exhausted with the final bits. S/he often resorts to some sort of deus ex machina quick fix, just trying to wrap it up, get it published, and make those final millions. “If you do books one and two well enough, they’ll buy book three, regardless of whether it’s good or not,” right? Well, yes, that’s true, but that isn’t a “get out of jail free” card that can be used to phone in a good ending. We stuck with you; we deserve pizzazz.

Pierce Brown has made me proud! He did not leave his readers hanging. It is abundantly evident that he put as much, if not more, thought into the minutiae of book three than into books one and two. The fact that book three was the pride and joy of this series was palpable. It got a bit heavy with details here and there, and my eyes glazed over during more than a few of the political discussions, but DANG, was that book every single thing I needed it to be. In terms of Morning Star being its own, individual piece of literature: bravo! But in terms of it being the third and final volume in a series: AH-MAZING!!!!

He’s writing a spin-off series = all the praise, all the time!!

5 Stars! Read it!!

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L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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L: Review of Tim Wynne-Jones’s “The Emperor of Any Place”

My strategy of picking books based on interesting covers has led me in the right direction, again. This book called to me from the shelf, with the yellow map lines, the island in a churning sea, the solitary silhouette, the Japanese symbol, and the very peeved, Einstein-haired bird watching over it all. The whole thing was a giant question mark to me so, upon reading the dust jacket synopsis and finding out it was about WWII, I welcomed it into the family that is my TBR collection.

When Evan’s father dies, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his father had been reading when he passed away. It is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? Who was the American soldier also stranded there? And what could this possibly mean for Evan?

Aside from the interest piqued by the cover and synopsis, I had no expectations going into this novel. I’ve never read anything by Wynne-Jones, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, either. I was pleasantly surprised, though!

This book was a rare treasure: a book about a book. About 1/3 of the book takes place in the present day and 2/3 of the book are the journal entries of a Japanese soldier and an American soldier who find themselves enemies allied in order to survive on a deserted island, self-named Kokoro-Jima. The present day events are tied to the journal entries and, as Evan reads along, we share his surprise as he gains information as to how his own life is tied to the two inhabitants of Kokoro-Jima.

The writing was some of the most fluid and effortless language I’ve ever read. I truly felt as though I was tangled up in the thought process of a teenage boy. The main character, Evan, is a seventeen-year-old who just lost his father and is dealing with the mysterious nature of the book found on his father’s desk, the calls from the author’s son, and the appearance of his hitherto unknown grandfather, as if the overwhelming loss of his father and best friend wasn’t enough. The emotions are raw and real, sometimes surfacing at unwanted times and other times being choked down (as is often the case in real life), while the characters were relatable, pitiable, witty, and sometimes loathsome. All of the main characters were male and the story within the story was about war, an often male-dominated topic, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by man-stuff, adrift in a sea of testosterone. As a female reader, I was just as interested and impacted as any male reader.

The novel does take unexpected turns towards the paranormal, a fact which other readers have found irritating, according to other reviews. I rarely consider the fantastical to be irritating, an in the context of this book, I actually thought it was brave. War is such a difficult topic, as is the idea of being stranded without hope of rescue. Some may think that the including spirits and monsters makes light of a serious situation, but I disagree. I think the paranormal aspects made the soldiers more relatable, in terms of their reactions to the unfamiliar. And even if it did make light of war, so what? When faced with the unknown, is the known still relevant? When stranded on an island, is the enemy still your enemy? When faced with a REAL monster, is the “monster” inside your enemy still fearsome?

In terms of YA readers, this book would be a great supplemental text when learning about WWII (or any war, really). It challenges the idea of “enemy” in a way that is digestible but still potent for young readers. It would also be a good read for kids dealing with the death of a close friend or family member, or someone who might be estranged from extended family. Despite the YA title, the novel felt mature. Despite the serious issues it addresses, it still felt light and fun. Wynne-Jones is undoubtedly a talented writer, whose work I will continue to seek out in the future.

 

 

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