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.

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.

Book Review: The Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin

The final book in a series always seems to be the most difficult to review.  They tend to be a mixed bag of emotions. Happiness because the ending truly does the series justice, combined with the touch of sadness because it has come to end. Or disappointment, combined with a dash of anger if the less than stellar final book has tarnished the memory of earlier, better books. Kingdom of the Gods falls somewhere near the middle of this spectrum for me, but leans more towards the former. It has many of the same qualities I loved in the first two of the series, great writing and compelling characters, but it lacks some of the magic, especially when compared to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

In Kingdom of the Gods we get a story from the perspective of the oldest godling Sieh, god of childhood and mischief. Without giving too much away, I can say that the plot revolves around Sieh befriending two mortal children. Two Arameri mortal children, descendants of those who kept him enslaved for centuries. This friendship ends up of having a ripple effect across both the god’s realm and the mortal world, as well as irrevocably changing Sieh.

Sieh was a favorite character of mine from the first book, so it was fun reading a story told from his perspective. Shahar and Deka, the aforementioned children, are interesting as the strong willed sister who vows to be a good ruler and the quiet, kind hearted brother who must learn to protect himself. Though they could have been developed a little further, especially Deka. These three provide the sexy undertones that we’ve come to expect after the first two novels of the series. The best part of this novel however, is the way it brings the series full circle. The mythology of the world is explored more deeply, and there is a recreation of several elements from the first two novels, which is a joy to see played out.

The plot does drag a bit more than the previous installments of the series and there are some bits towards the end that are slightly convoluted, but N.K. Jemisin’s writing is so lovely, and the world she has created so magnificent, that these faults can be easily overlooked. All in all, the final installment of The Inheritance Trilogy left me feeling quite satisfied. And I would certainly recommend the series as a whole to fantasy fans, lovers of great writing, and anyone who likes their stories a tad sexy.

Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms, book two in the Inheritance Trilogy, resumes the story ten years after the events in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This time our protagonist is Oree Shoth, a young blind woman living in the Shadow, a city filled with godlings and priests, heretics and pilgrims. Oree may not have the power of sight, but she does have the ability to see magic and create a bit of her own. When she lets an odd, quiet man with strange magic into her life she becomes embroiled in a plot involving the murder of godlings. Along the way she learns the secrets of her own magic, and finds that she may be the only one to stop these murders before all of Shadow pays the price.

Now the big question regarding any sequel, is it as good as the first? Not quite. But I still immensely enjoyed this novel. The writing style is similar to the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and still lovely, but it’s slightly more contained. It’s first person again, with the same mix of plot narrative and stories of Oree’s past, but it has a little less of the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of the first novel. I still love N.K. Jemisin’s writing, but I think I preferred the more wild, uncontained style of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Now when it comes to characters, The Broken Kingdoms does well in matching its predecessor. Oree is an interesting and unique protagonist. She may have a disability, but she is just as capable as any other heroine. She fights for for her independence and freedom throughout the novel. Plus, she is comfortable with her sexuality and her body, which is so refreshing to see in any work of fiction. Anyone who read the previous novel will immediately know the true identity of ‘Shiny’, Oree’s mysterious new companion. He is not that likeable and certainly not a hero, but he sees immense growth throughout the novel. By the end of the story he has changed, while still holding on to the core aspects of himself, or perhaps by returning to what he once was. There is a fun new set of secondary characters, mostly godlings with a wide array of powers and traits, as well as appearances by characters from the first novel.

With the shift to a new heroine we get to see the events from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from an outsider’s perspective, and with the jump forward in time we get to see the effect those events had on this world. Where the first novel is dark and sexy, this novel is more of a slow burn. The tone of each novel is truly an embodiment of the god at the core of each story. If you liked the world and writing style of the first novel, I think you will enjoy The Broken Kingdoms. In fact, anyone who had problems with the writing style of the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will most likely enjoy this novel more. In the end, The Broken Kingdoms solidified my new found fandom of N.K. Jemisin, and I cannot wait to read the conclusion of this epic fantasy.

A study in the re-watch: TVD Season One

Well, it is twenty-two episodes later and I have finished Season One of the re-watch (it is still slightly painful to type that “re”) of The Vampire Diaries! To be perfectly honest I am already well into Season Two. It turns out that just sitting there and allowing Netflix to auto-play the next episode is far less work than writing up a “review”. Who knew? With that being said, I am going to try to keep this review to Season One only. I think it is fair to say that this review will have spoilers (but honestly if you haven’t watched it yet, you probably never will). I think there are three key pieces to TVD: the characters, the romance (obviously), and the plot. Some of you may read that last one, laugh and say, “What plot?”. However, I would argue it is a pretty plot driven show. Whether you genuinely find that plot interesting, or simply want to see what ludicrous lengths the writers will take it to next (this applies more to later seasons), will vary depending on the viewer. Either way, plot is a reason to watch this show. Now on to some Season One specifics!

The cast of characters of TVD can be pretty large, so I will just stick to the core set of characters:

Elena: Obviously we have to start here. Elena is the narrator as well as the audience surrogate. As the show opens she is a sad teenager trying to get over the death of her parents. One thing that comes up in many recaps and reviews of the current season of TVD, is a critique of how Elena’s character has become increasingly selfish and difficult to root for (and really kind of an asshole). I tend to agree with that sentiment, and I do even more so after going back and re-watching Season One. For the most part Elena is kind and genuinely cares for her friends and family in the first season. However, there are also some grating aspects of her character. Everyone is in love with her and sometimes it is difficult to see why. The only answer that’s really ever given is that she is nice, which is a great quality, but I don’t think it is going to have everyone falling head over heels for you. She also begins to put her boyfriend above everyone else as the season goes on, which is something that happens far too often in fiction. Speaking of the boyfriend…

Stefan: If I could only describe Stefan is one word it would be boring. He is just kind of a dud. His defining character trait at this point is that he loves Elena and would do anything for her. Oh, he also secretly has serious self control problems, combined with a holier than thou attitude. Awesome! I think Stefan is the opposite of Elena, in that his character gets better as the show continues. When we begin to see more of his flaws, it adds depth to his character and makes him more likeable. Whereas Elena’s flaws make her appear more shallow and far less likeable. I really don’t have much more to say about him. Wait, he is also brooding (the show loves to call attention to this in a ‘in on the joke’, snarky sort of way) and he hates his “evil” brother who is always ruining everything…

Damon: Stefan’s brother. The villain to Stefan’s hero. He is also probably the most interesting character in the show (at this point). A romance novel would say he has a devil may care attitude, and this has made him a fan favorite. At the beginning of the season he appears to simply be a murderous jerk who values nothing and is motivated only by blood lust. As the season wears on, we find that he is actually motivated by love (twisted love, but love none the less), and may even value friendship and his relationship with his brother. GASP! Most of this changed is sparked by his budding friendship with Elena.

Bonnie: Bonnie is Elena’s best friend and also a WITCH! She is just starting to learn about her powers in Season One. She is very suspicious (with good reason) of Stefan, and hates (again, with good reason) Damon. She struggles with her newfound power and relationship with the vampires throughout this season.

Caroline: Caroline becomes one of my favorite characters in later seasons, but in Season One she is portrayed as neurotic, clingy, and sometimes a bitch. She is manipulated by the evil brother above and jealous of perfect Elena. I’ll talk more about Caroline in later reviews.

Matt: Elena’s ex-boyfriend and  the love interest of Caroline. He is a football player with a bad home life. Matt is boring in this season, which is a common theme throughout the series.

Jeremy: Elena’s little brother. He is dealing with his parents death through drugs and partying. He’s a sad, emo loner. Jeremy dies several times throughout the series and I think he should’ve stayed dead on one of those occasions. He actually doesn’t bother me as much in this season because he is a peripheral character. He should have stayed that way (or dead).

Tyler: Matt’s best friend. The only bigger asshole than Tyler is Tyler’s dad. He is a very minor character this season up until the final episode, when we find out that he and his father have a SECRET! More on that later.

Alaric: The new mysterious history teacher who turns out to be a vampire hunter out for vengeance for the death of his wife! He also ends up dating Elena’s aunt. Alaric is yet another character who becomes more interesting in later seasons.

Now on to the romances, and in case you couldn’t guess this show is chock full of them! I have not decided if I am going to use the language commonly used when talking about romance in TV/books/etc. (especially teen/YA). Of course I am talking about the dreaded ‘ship’/’shipper’ and the name combinations (Stelena/Delena/etc.) we’ve come to know and love. Considering that I have already mentioned them, I am guessing it isn’t long before I devolve into using them. But for now I will use real, adult human language!

Elena/Stefan: On my first watch of TVD I enjoyed this romance, I still also enjoyed the Elena/Damon flirtations, but I was pretty on board with the Elena/Stefan romance. Maybe it is because I am older and wiser (code for more cynical and disillusioned), but upon rewatching I am just not that into it. They are sweet, sickeningly sweet. It is very much a typical high school ‘I love you now so I am going to love you FOREVER!’ relationship. Which makes sense for Elena, but Stefan is pushing 140 plus years, so I would think that he would know better by now (yes, he only ever loved Katherine. And yes, he spent years being a ruthless murderer not concerned with love. But still, his first love turned out horribly and he’s had a lot of life experience. Don’t be such a love sick puppy, dude). They do the whole break up and get back together thing a few times during the course of this season, but they always come back to each other because they are (currently) the OTP (God damn it! So much for avoiding the terminology. For those of you not “in the know”, OTP is a term used when describing a relationship between two fictional characters that is meant to be/written in the stars/whatever other romance euphemism you would like to use. It stands for One True Pairing. Now please excuse me while I go shame myself for using that phrase).

Caroline/Matt: Caroline has many boyfriends over the course of the series and I would like to take this moment to address all the hate towards her because of it. She is young, cute, strong, and will (eventually) live forever. She can have as many boyfriends as she wants! Get off her back and quit slut shaming (this also applies to all women in real life). With that out of the way, this is Caroline’s least interesting relationship. For approximately one second I thought this relationship was cute, but then it is simply used to make Caroline seem extremely jealous and insecure, so I was no longer on board. Also, as mentioned above, Matt is boring. Moving on.

Elena/Damon: I know not technically a relationship yet, but I forgot how much sexual tension there is right from the get-go. They are merely friends this season, but even that is interesting. It goes from fear/hatred to acceptance/liking, back to hatred, and finally settles on friendly “platonic” love. It’s nice and their scenes are some of the best of the season.

Let’s close this review out with some plot talk! Season 1 is probably the slowest moving TVD season plot wise. It spends a good deal of time setting up the world, and on Elena finding out about, and then dealing with, Stefan’s vampiric state. Then we have some vampire hijinks (including Matt’s sister being turned and ultimately killed), a secret council made up of the town’s founding families hell bent on destroying vampires, a vampire hunter history teacher with his own agenda, and of course bickering between the Salvatore brothers. All of this leads up to the big reveals of why Elena looks like Katherine (Damon and Stefan’s former lover and the one who turned them into vampires), who Elena’s biological parents are, and what the council plans to do to rid the town of vampires. Like any soapy drama, Season One of TVD leaves us with a juicy cliffhanger: Katherine is back! Yay for doppelganger shenanigans! The plot will thicken in Season Two (and continue to thicken until it reaches the consistency of three weeks old bad milk) and I will be writing about all the juicy (rotten) details!

Overall: Season one has a slow start but I think the latter third of the season makes up for it, and clearly it held my interest enough to compel me to watch Season Two (this may say more about me than about the show however). It is has the outlandish plots points and cheesy romance I’ve come to know and love from TVD, with some added heart that may be missing from later seasons.

Rank: Well this is the only one I’ve reviewed thus far so… season 1 is NUMBER ONE!

Lingering Question(s): So what happened to the whole Damon controlling the fog and (possibly) turning into a crow thing? We’re just going to drop that and never bring it up again? Okay, probably a good call.