Review – The One by Kiera Cass

Title: The One (The Selection #3)

Author: Kiera Cass

Star Rating: *

Genre: Romance, Dystopia

Cover - The One

Synopsis

The end is finally here. America Singer was pressured into joining the selection, a televised competition between young women vying to be the next princess of Illea, and now she and Prince Maxon must sort out their feelings for one another as a rebellion intensifies in violence around them. Will America win Maxon’s heart or will she be going home heartbroken?

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Review: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley

Title: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine

Author: Tim Hanley

Star Rating: * * * *

Genre: Pop culture analysis, Superhero

Thanks to NetGalley and Chicago Review Press who provided me with a free copy of this book in return for a fair review.

 Cover - Wonder Woman Unbound

Background and Synopsis

Wonder Woman is a very hot topic at the moment due to the immense popularity of superhero movies, and the unfortunate absence of female leads in any of these films. For Marvel, the conversation has been focused on Black Widow, a character that has at least gotten screen time. For DC, the heroine at the heart of these discussions is Wonder Woman, one of their “holy trinity” of main properties. However, despite the fact that she is supposedly one of the central DC characters, Wonder Woman is often ignored in terms of merchandise and non-comic appearance opportunities. This has led to a situation where most people could probably talk about the histories of Batman and Superman, but are largely ignorant of Wonder Woman’s origins and basic story premises.

Hanley published Wonder Woman Unbound to try and clear up some of the confusion regarding this iconic character. He painstakingly details her history, from the golden age to today, talking about how her stories have been affected by different authors and varying time periods. To those who think Wonder Woman is too confusing a character, Hanley proves them wrong by presenting Wonder Woman as a hero who has undergone extensive changes like all the other major superheroes of DC and Marvel, but she has multiple histories and origins that can be drawn upon to make a cohesive, interesting, and empowering whole.

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Review – French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Title: French Milk

Author: Lucy Knisley

Star Rating: * ½

Genre: Graphic memoir/travelogue

Cover - French Milk

French Milk is about Lucy Knisley’s month-long trip to Paris when she was 22. It is meant to be both a travelogue, as well a series of ruminations on the transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, the book does neither particularly well.

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Review – Will-O-the-Wisp by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

Title: Will-O-the-Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story

Authors: Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Paranormal

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley.

Cover - Will o the Wisp

Synopsis

After her parents died from accidentally ingesting poisonous mushrooms, Aurora is sent to live with her estranged grandfather deep in the southern swamps. Not only must she contend with this cantankerous old man, but she must figure out how to fit in with the diverse residents of Ossuary Isle. When strange occurrences begin to happen, she starts to explore the realm of Hoodoo magic alongside a priestess from the swamp in order to protect her new community from a vengeful spirit.

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Double Review – The Unwritten 8: Orpheus in the Underworlds and Locke and Key 6: Alpha and Omega

The following two reviews are going to be short because I find it hard to write about books that I really enjoy. Instead of giving people a fair and accurate description of the good and the bad, I just want to run around in delight, babbling about all the things that I liked. To prevent my review from becoming just a series of animated gifs, I’m going to challenge myself to be brief and concise in my attempts to encourage people to read the latest volumes of both The Unwritten and Locke and Key!

Also, since both books are new or soon-to-be-released entries in popular series, let me be clear that there are at least some SPOILERS AHOY!!!!

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Review – The Elite by Kiera Cass

Title: The Elite

Authors: Kiera Cass

Star Rating: * *

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia

Cover - The Elite

 

Synopsis

In The Selection, America Singer was chosen as one of 35 young women all competing to win the heart of Prince Maxon. However, her heart was still yearning for Aspen, the boy she thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with. Instead, America finds herself immersed in political controversies and catty women, all for a prize that she doesn’t even want. The Elite picks up when there are only six women left, and Maxon is pressuring America to finally decide whether she is ready to commit to him. Can she let go of Aspen and accept the responsibility of becoming a queen? Or are the savage realities of being a royal just too much for America to handle?

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Review – The Night Wanderer Graphic Novel by Drew Taylor

Title: The Night Wanderer

Authors: Drew Hayden Taylor (Author), Alison Kooistra (Adaptor), Mike Wyatt (Illustrator)

Star Rating: * * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Indigenous Narrative, Paranormal

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley

Cover - The Night Wanderer

Synopsis

Pierre L’Errant is an Anishinabe man who has been away from home for centuries. When the desire to come back becomes too much to bear, he flies to Otter Lake to deal with his inner demons. However, when he arrives, he finds himself embroiled in the problems of the family that he is staying with. Tiffany, the teenager of the house, is struggling. Her parents are separated, her boyfriend isn’t treating her well, her grades are dropping at school, and her dad refuses to understand her difficulties. By intervening, Pierre not only helps Tiffany start to sort through her issues, but he comes to a conclusion about his own struggles.

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Review – Mara by Brian Wood

Title: Mara

Authors: Brian Wood (Author), Ming Doyle (Illustrator)

Star Rating: * * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Sci-fi

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley

Cover - Mara

Synopsis

In the future, the world is embroiled in war. This inspires citizens of individual countries to become good patriots, and part of this shift takes the form of an obsession in sports. Children are tested and trained from extremely young ages to battle it out for their country in a jersey instead of army fatigues. One of the best and most beloved is Mara, an expert volleyball player. She’s beautiful, talented, and adored by all until strange things start happening to her. She’s faster, stronger, and a little less human every day, and it doesn’t take long for the world to turn against their former hero.

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RRRs 3 – YA Dystopias

My “what I’ve read” versus “what I’ve written about” piles are completely out of balance again, so it’s time for another RRR (rapid response review)! Today’s theme comes from one of my current literary obsessions: YA dystopias.

1.       The Eleventh Plague – Jeff Hirsch

Cover - The Eleventh Plague

Star Rating: * *

The Eleventh Plague is about a world destroyed, not surprisingly, by plague, and the remaining people are scavengers just trying to survive. At the start of the novel, Stephen must suddenly fend for himself after his grandfather dies and his father is badly injured during an accident. He joins up with group of strangers who take him to a hidden town that has managed to maintain some semblance of order and safety. However, this isolated village is not as perfect as it seems, and Stephen begins to wonder if he’d be safer on his own.

The main problem with The Eleventh Plague is that it is boring. Books don’t need constant action to be interesting, but they must have some believable tension. Hirsch was trying to portray a very insular community where freedoms were restricted in order to ensure social cohesion, but the stakes never seemed that high. The expectations were pretty low (contribute and don’t be disruptive), and readers were only given one example of a family being banished.  Additionally, an adopted Chinese teenager named Julie lived in the town, and she faced mistrust and racism from the community, but not nearly as much as I would have expected given the fact that China unleased the plague. Julie refused to participate in community functioning, and caused a lot of havoc and disharmony by fighting. However, the town let her skip school and do her own thing most of the time. She faced little punishment for her indiscretions, and this is surprising as I would assume that fear and distrust could cause people to react violently to a person that they see as an enemy. Many authors have used isolated villages to really explore the horror of human emotions under pressure, but The Eleventh Plague only brushed the surface of human depravity. For a dystopia, it was pretty lightweight, and there are a lot of better books that deal with the subject in a more nuanced and in-depth manner.

2.       The Fifth Wave – Rick Yancey

Cover - The Fifth Wave

Star Rating: * * *

The Fifth Wave has received a lot of hype this past year, and while it is certainly not one of the best novels that I have ever read, I thought it was quite enjoyable. The story is about an alien species trying to kill off the human race through waves of different attacks. First came the destruction of our technology, then a series of tsunamis that wiped out the coastal regions, followed by a devastating plague, and finally the revelation that some of the aliens had been living among us all along and were quite happy to start killing the remaining humans. Now only a scattered few people remain, clinging to the hope that the government can protect them as they wait for the start of an unknown fifth wave…

My one major complaint about this book was that I really didn’t like the perspective changes. For a good hundred pages, readers follow Cassie, a teenage girl who has managed to survive the first several waves. Then the narrative shifts to Zombie, a teenage boy’s perspective, without any warning. Not only was this transition too abrupt, I wanted more Cassie! Subjectively, I found her more interesting than Zombie and his crew, despite the fact that his plot was essential for the book as a whole. Those who like Ender’s Game, on the other hand, will probably love Zombie’s segments of the book.

Overall, The Fifth Wave was an entertaining read with lots of action sequences and good characters. The plot is a bit stereotypical, but the author manages to keep things interesting regardless.

3.       All Our Yesterdays – Christin Terrill

Cover - All Our Yesterdays

Star Rating: * *

All Our Yesterdays is an overly-promoted YA dystopia that left me disappointed. It is a very exciting and fast-paced book, but it also doesn’t make any sense. The narrative is told from the perspective of one character during two different periods of her life. Em is a young woman kept captive and tortured by an evil scientist, and she and her lover must travel back in time to ensure that this terrible future never occurs. Marina, on the other hand, is a normal teenage girl who has fallen in love with her childhood friend and just wants a happy ending. Marina’s crush is a brilliant young man who graduated early and is already conducting experimental research at a top university. He is, of course, the evil scientist from the future who has invented time travel and remade the world into a terrible place because of the pain that he has suffered after his family died.

The plot of this story is not particularly unique, and the world-building does little to set this novel apart from other dystopias. Readers know that the future is bad, but the author doesn’t give very many details as to what this terrible new world looks like. The characters aren’t particularly compelling, and I often found myself frustrated with them. For example, Em knows that she absolutely must kill James, but despite having several opportunities to do so, she keeps avoiding taking this final step. While I do accept that killing people is something that most people are going to struggle with, this is a person that Em knows will torture her and her loved ones in the future. Her hesitancy is questionable if the future is as bad as she claims that it is. Furthermore, her younger self, Marina, is a terribly valid and insipid character. Her life is centered around her crush on James, and this informs basically every action that she takes. She has few positive characteristics to endear her to readers, and generally acts like a silly, flighty, often mean-spirited brat. She is certainly not the worst character in terms of attitude, but I didn’t find her very interesting or enjoyable to follow. Being that I liked neither her nor Em, it was hard to really get into the story, and the plot inconsistencies involving time travel made my heart hurt. This is definitely not a book on my recommend pile.

4.       Fallen World Series: The Way We Fall and The Lives We Lost – Megan Crewe

Cover - The Way We Fall Cover - The Lives We Lost

Star Rating: * * * / * *

The Way We Fall is a plague-based dystopia set in Canada. Since I am Canadian and I really like medical-based thrillers, this book won a lot of points from me just for existing. The story involves a teenage girl, Kaelyn, who lives on an island that is beset by a strange flu that causes people to slowly lose their inhibitions and eventually die while suffering terrible hallucinations. The island gets cut off from the mainland, and society begins to crumble as more and more people become ill. Kaelyn’s father is a research doctor and he is working frantically to figure out what is going on, but with food becoming scarce and families being torn apart by disease, someone needs to set up and try to maintain order in the town. Kaelyn and several other teens take on this task, praying that the mainland will come to save them soon.

Kaelyn’s story is told through journal entries that she is writing to a friend that she has had a falling out with. I found this to be an excellent frame for the plot since it allowed Kaelyn time to reflect on what was happening before she told her story, and the format mirrors the desire that many people have to “communicate” with someone even when they are no longer part of one’s life.

The Lives We Lost begins with the island re-establishing contact with the mainland. The characters find out that the plague made it to the rest of the world, causing mass devastation. Now Kaelyn and her friends must take the vaccine that her father prepared to a group of scientists in Ontario.

Unfortunately, this second book of the Fallen World series was a lot weaker than the first. While I do appreciate it when YA protagonists are allowed to act like young adults, I found that most of the characters were irritatingly obtuse. For example, when Kaelyn finds the vaccine, she decides that she must deliver it to other scientists as soon as possible because the vaccine must be kept at a particular temperature and she is worried that the generators on the island will fail. Being that I have to take a temperature-controlled medication myself, I know how nerve-wracking it can be to have to protect your meds in less-than-perfect situations. However, the last thing in the world that I would do with my medication is to take it on a long hike in a Canadian winter because, at least in Ontario where Kaelyn ends up, the temperatures can easily dip below -30C. There is no way in hell that a vaccine would survive a trip like the one she took, and this was only one of the flaws that I found in the mechanics of the plot. I will be reading the third book in the series because now I feel invested in seeing what happens to the world, and I am really hoping that this final installment improves.

5.       Life as We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

Cover - Life as We Knew It

Star Rating: * * * *

Life as We Knew It remains one of the most affecting YA dystopias that I’ve read all year. It’s about a world where the moon has shifted orbit due to an asteroid crashing into it, resulting in the climate changing dramatically, and humanity is now struggling to survive. The book is told through the eyes of Miranda, a high school age teenager living in a small town with her family. Her mother is smart enough to recognise the first signs of trouble, and she makes sure that her family has enough supplies to support themselves while the world crumbles around them. Canned goods, however, don’t last forever, and illness and injury are things that your average North American family can’t always handle on their own. The group starts to struggle as it becomes more and more apparent that there isn’t a government left to save them and hard choices must be made.

The only thing that really bothered me in Life as We Knew It was the fact that Miranda’s family was so worried about ensuring that her youngest brother would survive. It is true that many people try to protect the most vulnerable around them, but the explanation given by the family was that Jon was the most likely to survive the apocalypse, so all the family resources should be focused on him. Jon, however, was 12. Miranda was 15-16 years old, and Matt was around 19 years old. These older teens were more likely to be able to take care of themselves and survive than the kid who still needed a babysitter before the world ended. This “feed Jon at all costs and let everyone else die” wasn’t a story-breaking issue, but it did irk me that the rest of the characters were so ready to sacrifice themselves so stupidly.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I really enjoyed this book, the rest of the series is not something that I want to read. The perspective changes multiple times, and the characters develop into people that I don’t particularly like. So for those going forward with Pfeffer’s novels, you might have to check out a few plot synopses first.

Top Ten Tuesdays – Books I’d Recommend to Readers Interested in Graphic Novels

A quick glance at my Goodreads read list shows that I am a big fan of graphic novels. When done well, they are a wonderful method of telling stories that can engage readers in an entirely different manner than a regular book. However, a lot of people associate graphic novels with silly superhero comics. While there are plenty of good Batman comics I could recommend to undermine that stereotype, I decided I’d write a list of some of the best non-superhero comics out there instead for those looking for something different. (Once again, thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!)

1.       The Sandman (Series) – Neil Gaiman

 Cover - The Sandman Series

The Sandman is probably the definitive graphic novel series that appears on every recommendation list, and for good reason! Gaiman’s series is an epic ten volume set filled with ancient myths, pop culture references, strong writing, and a plethora of amazing art styles. The story centers on the lives of the Endless, a group of beings that are the personifications of ideas such as Dreams, Desire, Destruction, and Death. If you want to get a sense of just how amazing graphic novels can be, The Sandman should be at the top of your to-read list!

2.       The Last Unicorn (Standalone) – Peter S. Beagle, Renae de Liz/Ray Dillon (Illustrators)

Cover - The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn was my absolute favourite movie as a child, and I probably watched it several hundred times (much to my mother’s dismay). When I spotted issue one of the comic in stores. I just about died of joy. Now I own the series in singles and in trade (and I am trying really hard to convince myself not to buy the gorgeous deluxe version). The Last Unicorn is a very beautiful, but melancholy fairy tale. It is the story of a unicorn trying to find the rest of her kind, but she discovers that they have all been forgotten by the world. One person still remembers that unicorns exist, but he is a bitter and callous man who seeks to control them all. With the help of the two companions that she meets on her travels, the last unicorn finds her brethren and sets them free. However, to do so, she must become the only unicorn to ever experience regret and mortality. Her story is achingly bittersweet, and it appeals to readers of any age.

As a graphic novel, The Last Unicorn is a work of art. The illustrations in this volume are gorgeous, and the pages are filled with beautiful colours and details. The artists capture the atmosphere of the story effectively, and they pay well-executed homage to the art of the movie. The adaption of the text is faithful, and yet the book as a whole feels as if it adds something new and unexplored to the story overall. It is a fabulous edition for fans of the story, but also for those who like fantasy and want to branch out into the graphic novel world.

3.       The Unwritten (Series) – Mike Carey (Author) and Peter Gross (Illustrator)

Cover - The Unwritten Series (Sample of Covers)

The Unwritten is a story about the power of stories. Tom Taylor is famous because his father published a series of books that were about a protagonist with the same name as his son. However, these were no ordinary books. Tom’s father carefully constructed these novels as tools to harness the powers of readers, and to achieve a mysterious purpose that pulls Tom into an adventure that he can’t understand, and is not sure that he will survive. The Unwritten is a very creative story that explores tropes and classical narrative constructions, and it’s hard not to rush through the entire series in one sitting. Fortunately, it’s also a series with a lot of reread potential since you will get something new out of it every time you read it again!

4.       A Flight of Angels (Standalone) – Holly Black/Louise Hawes/Todd Mitchell/Alisa Kwitney/Bill Willingham (Authors) and Rebecca Guay (Illustrator)

Cover - A Flight of Angels

An angel falls from the sky, and the various creatures and mythical beings of the forest where this happens tell each other stories to try and explain where this mysterious being came from. A classical framework story, A Flight of Angels is the work of many authors, and one absolutely amazing artist. It’s fantastical, sometimes sad, and always beautiful.

5.       Y: The Last Man (Series) – Brian K. Vaughan (Author), Pia Guerra/Jose Marzan Jr (Illustrators)

Cover - Y The Last Man Series

As a feminist, there are times when I think that Y: The Last Man is the greatest graphic novel series ever written, and there are times when I want to set it on fire. It’s controversial, thought-provoking, and also just a very engaging and emotional story. At the start of volume one, Yorick Brown discovers that he and his companion monkey are the last remaining men on Earth. The series follows his attempts to find his fiancé (who is stuck somewhere on the other side of the world), while the world comes to grip with the fact that everything with a Y-chromosome has died overnight. Unfortunately for Yorick, his existence doesn’t stay a complete secret, and he gets drawn into a series of conspiracies by women who are trying to restructure this new world in an image they find palatable. Y is a great series for new readers to jump into since it’s complete, and the art and story are consistently good throughout the volumes.

6.       Sailor Twain (or the Mermaid in the Hudson) (Standalone) – Mark Siegel

Cover - Sailor Twain

I expected to hate Sailor Twain when I picked it up in the bookstore. It takes place in a time period where steam boats are still being used (and I’m really not a fan of historical stories), and I initially despised the art. However, as I started flipping through I found myself increasingly drawn into the story until I realised that there was no way that I was putting it down unless I finished! Sailor Twain is a haunting tale of men obsessed with and controlled by supernatural forces. It develops slowly, drawing the reader into its eerie atmosphere until it finishes with a menacing climax that leaves one feeling chilled. The art that looks so comic and plain at the start is actually very expressive and suitable for the story being told, and it has a very unique look.

7.       Fables (Series) – Bill Willingham (Author)

Cover - Fables Series

Fables can be a bit of a daunting series to get into, but it’s definitely worth the effort! Currently consisting of 18 trades and 15 different spin-off books, it’s a great series for readers who like long and complicated stories. The books follow the lives of Fables, the living incarnations of fairy tale characters, after they have fled from their homeland because of the takeover of a great adversary. They live among humans discretely, and have grown and changed quite substantially from the stories that are so commonly told about them. Fables is a story that involves love, magic, war, and tragedy, and is certainly closer to the original versions of the fairy tales than the watered-down Disney-style stories that we get today.

8.       Beasts of Burden: Animal Rights (Standalone) – Evan Dorkin (Author) and Jill Thompson (Illustrator)

Cover - Beasts of Burden Animal Rites

Beasts of Burden was one of my Halloween recommendations, but it’s a strong read no matter what the season! The characters in these stories are household pets who just so happen to be involved in a battle against dark forces. This is a story that could easily lapse into silliness, but despite the cuteness of the protagonists, the narratives are scary and effecting. Furthermore, the artwork is beautiful, and even though Thompson draws adorable characters, she’s also quite the master at ensuring that the dark and foreboding atmosphere of these stories is well conveyed.

9.       The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (Standalone) – Alison Bechdel

Cover - The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out for is a collection of the best strips from Bechdel’s very popular and famous long-running comic strip series about a queer community. The comics are funny, touching, and often extremely poignant explorations of the lives of individuals fighting against marginalisation while also just trying to be people. This is an example of one of the more traditional styles of graphic novel, and I’d recommend it for all readers, whether they are queer-identified or not.

10.   Locke and Key (Series) – Joe Hill (Artist) and Gabriel Rodríguez (Illustrator)

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Locke and Key was another one of my horror book recommendations in a previous Top Ten Tuesday, but it’s also a great example of a graphic novel series in general. Written by Joe Hill, a master of horror, the story deals with the lives of the Locke family after their father was brutally murdered. The kids and their mother move back to their father’s family estate, and the youngest soon discovers that magical keys are hidden throughout the house. These keys allow the kids to do many things, from changing their gender to looking instead their own minds, but there’s a dark spirit that’s also quite interested in these tools as well. Suddenly, their father’s murder can no longer be explained as an unexplained, random incident, and the kids are fighting to survive. This is a creepy and sometimes terrifying series that is also extraordinarily creative. Stand aside, Stephen King, your son is here to take your place!

11.   Blacksad (Standalone) – Juan Díaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido

Cover - Blacksad

I featured Blacksad in one of my RRRs and gave it five stars because it is a great example of how great art and good writing can transform a concept that may seem silly and implausible into something incredible. The book is a noir detective story in a world filled with anthropomorphic animals. While this description may make one think that this isn’t the most serious of books, Blacksad is a very arresting tale filled with violent and decidedly adult themes. While the characters may look like cats, birds, otters, and other sometimes cute and fluffy creatures, the crimes that occur are very realistic and gruesome, and Blacksad himself deserves a place among the best noir protagonists.