Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling

Okay, I get it. I understand the criticisms of this book, I even agree with most of the them. But damn if I didn’t enjoy reading it. This book doesn’t do anything too shocking, or really anything that we haven’t seen before. Fans of fantasy will find the setup familiar: a young woman named Kelsea reappears from a life of hiding once she comes of age to inherit the throne. She battles political infighting, an embittered populace, and several attempts on her life. Oh, there’s also the looming threat of an evil queen in a neighboring state, and a couple of powerful family gems thrown in the mix. So fairly familiar territory, but despite this (and it’s few blatant flaws), I think it is a fun read.

Speaking of those flaws, the book does a few things that really didn’t work for me. These are actually more important to know than the things that do work. If you cannot get past these problems you are going to be in the “this book really isn’t for me” group.

  • The weird future medieval time period. At first glance the story feels like it takes place in another world during a medieval time period equivalent. But then it becomes apparent that is is actually our world, in the future (there are references to the Internet, Harry Potter, modern medicine). So something happens that causes us to regress, lose all of our technology, etc. On the surface this is fine, many post apocalyptic stories deal with a society that crumbles, but in this novel it feels odd. So some sort of catastrophe happens and we lose access to much of our technology, but no one even tries to retain the knowledge or regain what we had? We just regress back to swords and shields, horses and carriages? And no ones seems particularly bothered by this? Even in post apocalyptic stories the characters are generally striving to keep some semblance of what they had. They search for fuel to keep vehicles running, they search for medicine, they cling to whatever pieces of modern life they can. So it just seems off to me, and rather unlikely, that the people in this novel would just give up. In all fairness, as of yet we don’t know what happened to bring the world to this point,but I’m not sure what could possibly explain this level of regression. I managed to get over this by pretending that it is actually a different world, one that just happened to have Harry Potter as well. This was surprisingly easy.
  • The body image/self esteem issues of the main character. Kelsea thinks about how plain she is, a LOT. At times and in situations where it doesn’t even make sense. Despite having these self esteem issues herself, Kelsea has no problem tearing down another woman for believing herself to be beautiful even though she is OLD. You would think she would be more sympathetic towards the plights of an aging woman dealing with beauty and self image in a society that measures a woman’s worth based on how she looks. But no, if you’re old you should just shut up and stop trying. Now, I can forgive this because I think I see what the author was trying to do, and I respect it. Kelsea is a heroine whose beauty is NOT one of her key traits. She struggles with body image and self esteem, she worries she does not fit what her society deems a queen should look like. So the story is trying to touch on these issues and how they affect women, even women in power, even fantasy heroines. But it doesn’t always feel natural and it isn’t always consistent, so at time it feels like it is doing more harm than good.

However, the book is still FUN. Despite the body image issues, Kelsea is an interesting, multifaceted character. The politics are intricate, the fantasy elements intriguing, the characters endearing (or aggravating in the case of the “villains”). I’m excited to pick up the next installment of this series. I believe the flaws could be easily addressed in a sequel, or at the very least the enjoyable elements can continue to carry the weight.

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Nonny

I haven’t written much lately. Life seems to have gotten in the way, as it so often does. But a recent loss in my family has somehow brought me back to writing.

My grandmother (aka Nonny) recently passed away. Near the end of her sickness, as the entire family was trying to get affairs in order, the topic of an obituary came up. My dear aunt, who knows of my secret desire to write, volunteered me to tackle the task.

My first thought, panic. I had no idea what I would write. How could I possibly write about her and her life in a way that truly expressed how much I love her and how deeply I would miss her? But suddenly, and quickly, it came to me. I wrote it down immediately, afraid I would lose it, thinking I could always edit later. However, the more I looked at it, the more perfect it seemed.

Through unforeseen events (family drama, weird right?), it turned out my obituary was not destined to be used. But that’s okay. I still wrote it. It still exists as a testament to how I feel about my grandmother. It may not ever appear in the Sunday paper, but it can exist online. Here on my blog. On social media. And that is enough. I will miss my Nonny immensely, here is my written farewell to her. Rest well, Nonny, rest well.

“Wouldn’t that be fun?”, Patti Leafgren spoke those words often. Mother, wife, grandmother, aunt, sister, friend, these are just a few of the roles Patti filled throughout her life. For Patti, sitting around a table talking and playing games with those she loved was the best way to spend an evening. She loved sunshine and crafting (and enjoying the occasional glass of wine). But no matter what she was doing, she always made it fun. Patti passed peacefully in her sleep on the morning of June 29th, 2015, after a battle with cancer. She leaves behind her husband, Tom, her children, Jodi, Dan, and Michael, her grandchildren, and many others. She was a wonderful woman who will be missed by many. Wherever she is now, we know she will be having fun. IMG_1277

Book Review: Miss Mayhem, by Rachel Hawkins

Sometimes you just need a sweet, fun little read. Miss Mayhem fills that role perfectly. It may not hit as many high notes as its predecessor, Rebel Belle, but it still manages to be a pleasant read. Miss Mayhem picks up a few months after the events of Rebel Belle. Harper is trying to balance her role of Paladin with that of girlfriend, daughter, friend, ex-girlfriend. Oh, and she is also beginning a set of trials to test her skills as a Paladin that, if failed, may result in her death. No big deal.

Harper is still smart, strong, and funny, and the flip on stereotypical gender roles, having the female protagonist save the man, is still exciting and refreshing. This book also doesn’t continue to focus on the love triangle set up in Rebel Belle, which again is refreshing. Readers of YA have seen the love triangle done every which way, so it is great to see a triangle set up and resolved in book one, and then not revisited again in book two. This book also focuses more on friendship, both on Harper’s budding friendship with her ex Ryan, and on the re-cultivation of her friendship with her newly returned best friend, Bee.

The pacing of this novel is a little odd. It feels like not much happens plot wise, but there isn’t a whole lot of world/character building happening either. At the end of the 250 plus pages I felt like there should have been more, but at the same time the story felt sufficiently resolved. Needless to say, I did enjoy the ending. It gives the reader enough closure, while also providing a great setup for another story. (Also, Harper’s reaction to the events at the end of the story is perfect.) If we do see another installment of this series, I will likely pick it up. Miss Mayhem proves the sweet, Southern charm of this series still holds true.

Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, by G. Willow Wilson

Reading more comics and graphic novels has been a goal of mine for quite some time, after seeing (and enjoying) Avengers: Age of Ultron, I decided perhaps it was time to check out some Marvel comics. Of course the next question became, “Umm…where do I start?”. My inner (well, outer) feminist lead me to the new Marvel Now! incarnation of Ms. Marvel. A series about a young woman, written by a woman, that is critically acclaimed? Sign me up! So without further ado, here is my review of Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal and Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why, by G. Willow Wilson.

This series is so much fun! Kamala Khan is a wonderful protagonist. She is funny and nerdy, and learning to embrace herself and her newfound powers. She is working to balance her many worlds: daughter, muslim, teenager, superhero, and it a joy to read as she tackles the issues surrounding each of her roles. The art is lovely, colorful and bright, and feels perfectly suited to the character of Kamala. From references to video games, to cameos of other well known Marvel characters, there are so many little things to enjoy within each issue.

Perhaps the big bad wasn’t too frightening, but I wouldn’t want it to be in these first few issues. Kamala is just learning about her powers, there is plenty of time for her to tackle bigger, badder villains.

These first two volumes did a great job of introducing us to Kamala and her powers, while also setting up plenty of story fodder for future issues. As a new comic reader, I found these volumes to be very easy to dive into and digest. I cannot wait to pick up Volume 3 and read more about this new Ms. Marvel, and to see what she will accomplish next.

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars was one of those books that sat on my to-read list for quite some time. My previous knowledge of E. Lockhart (I was a fan of the Ruby Oliver series), combined with the rave reviews this novel was getting, made this a must read for me. Well, I finally got around to reading it, and let me say the praised heaped on this novel is well deserved and what they say is true, the less you know about this book the better. So I will add my praise to the pile, while making it as succinct and vague as possible.

This novel hits that rare sweet spot of both wanting to devour the pages for thrilling plot, while also wanting to slowly take in each delightful phrase. That being said, the novel is not very long so it is best consumed in one sitting, perhaps over a long afternoon, in an attempt to satisfy both of those urges.

One complaint this novel has gotten is in regards to the writing style, but I found myself drawn in from the very first passage. It is quite lovely in parts and feels perfectly suited to the story being told.

There isn’t much else to say, save that I truly enjoyed the experience of reading this novel. I highly recommend it to anyone, even those who don’t normally read Young Adult fiction. And I promise that you can trust me, I wouldn’t lie.

The Best Picture Show: More WWII Movies and Multiple Storylines

There are TWO episode of The Best Picture Show I have yet to plug here on the blog!

First, WWII: Part III

I don’t know if you’ve ever glanced at the complete list of Best Picture winners, but there are at least 11 which feature WWII in some way. We have had two previous episodes about WWII (World War II Family Films, Love is a Battlefield), this is our third and final episode discussing films which focus on the war and/or soldiers. These include: The Best Years of Our Lives, Bridge on the River Kwai, Schindler’s List. It is a good one. It obviously gets quite sad at the end, but then we make a bunch of jokes about shitty TV and talk about dinosaurs to make ourselves feel better. Check it out here!

http://tmarchese90.podomatic.com/entry/2015-04-19T09_56_39-07_00

Second, So Many Storylines!

Sometimes movies like to tell a bunch of seemingly unrelated stories which weave together to tell an overarching tale. Do you like those movies? Check out our episode! We discuss Grand Hotel, West Side Story, and Crash. Yes, we do discuss everyone’s hatred of Crash. You can find it here:

If you like what you hear you can find other episodes of The Best Picture show on iTunes or Podomatic. You could also subscribe. That would be awesome. Thanks!

Book Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

I stumbled across Seraphina by Rachel Hartman while perusing YA reviews on Goodreads, and I am ever so glad that I did. It has fantastic, detailed world building, a smart, capable heroine, and a love story that doesn’t feel recycled and cliche. It ends with the perfect balance of closure while still leaving the door open for a continuation of the story. A few years have passed and Rachel Hartman has gifted us with Shadow Scale, book two of Seraphina’s story!

For the most part Shadow Scale delivers on the promise of its predecessor. We get to see the world Hartman created in Seraphina on a larger scale as Seraphina travels outside of her homeland to find her fellow half dragons. Each of the places she visits has its own language, culture, and customs. This novel also delves deeper into the mythology surrounding half dragons. There is a good balance of detail in order to build a complex world, without drifting into info dumping. Seraphina herself is still strong and witty, and though she makes quite a few mistakes on her journey she remains likeable. The villain in this story is pretty terrifying. I cannot say much more without giving too much away, but it definitely has you on the edge of your seat near the climax.

One of my favorite parts of this novel, as well as Seraphina, is the way it deals with the romance. It isn’t insta-love, it takes awhile for the relationship to form and it is based on mutual admiration and respect. Seraphina also doesn’t give up on her family or goals to be with this love interest. Most importantly the “rival” isn’t depicted as a villain, in fact she is an admirable, likeable character. The ultimate resolution of this love story is unique, unexpected, and refreshing. In a genre where many of the love stories can feel unimaginative and trite, Shadow Scale offers something different, and it works.

I also have to note that the romance is not even the most powerful relationship in this novel. It is the relationship between Seraphina and her Uncle Orma which stays with the reader long after the book closes. Their relationship is written with such detail and love, and this novel shows the reader another, unexpected side of Orma.

The only complaint I have is that parts of the story felt rushed. Specifically the journey near the beginning of the novel and the final showdown near the end. This may just be that I wanted more time in this world and with these characters. However, the book is fairly long as it is and if more time was spent with these moments perhaps it would have felt overlong, but I wouldn’t have complained.

Overall, Shadow Scale was a fun, sweet read and a good followup to Seraphina. If you loved Seraphina, you’ll enjoy reading the conclusion of her journey.