24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: reviews (page 1 of 8)

Abby Reads: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Vintage, 1970, 224 pages
Fiction

Toni Morrison’s famed The Bluest Eye opens with an idyllic Dick-and-Jane description, typical of the image of an all-American-white-middle-class family in the 1940s. This image crumbles quickly as Morrison zooms in on the lives of a small black community within a larger white community in Ohio, and focuses further on young Pecola, whose family life is severely wanting of stability and who struggles with the external pressures of racism.

Here’s the deal: I’m a white person who grew up in a very white state. I have basically no context for The Bluest Eye and, while I’ve broadened the diversity of people in my life thanks to a move to Virginia almost seven years ago, I’m not an expert on racism nor have I ever experienced racism personally (and I never will because that’s how racism works). So, while I don’t think it’s appropriate to let my personal experiences influence my review of this novel, I do think it’s appropriate to acknowledge that my experiences influenced my perception of the content of this novel. I can, and will, still speak about the novel as a piece of literature or writing as I would any other novel with reminders dropped in here and there that my understanding of The Bluest Eye is inherently incomplete in a variety of aspects and, therefore, I may misinterpret sections and I welcome you to call those moments or anything else out either privately or in the comments.

With that said, The Bluest Eye is primarily a piece on internalized racism at various levels: the personal (especially Pecola and her desire for blue eyes, which she sees as the epitome of beauty and, generally speaking, a feature of the white population only — there are certainly people of color with blue eyes, but for the purposes of Pecola’s experiences, no such people exist), the familial (Pauline’s frustrations with Cholly often seem to manifest in using words seeped in a context of racism), and the community (schoolmates of Pecola shun and harass her for the color of her skin). Morrison also includes broader versions of racism, including systemic, among others, without ever overwhelming readers, though her characters are clearly overwhelmed by the unrelenting presence of racism in their lives.

Not only does Morrison handle this heavy topic with a great amount of skill and literary grace, but her prose on its own is something to marvel at. Specific and leaning toward a sort of magical realism (particularly in a chapter which discusses the origins and current state of a character known as Soaphead Church) but without the actual magic, Morrison manipulates her readers through a deliberate choice in language and syntax.

Morrison sets up fascinating character dynamics, including Claudia’s precocious refusal to buy into the internalized racism both Pecola and Frieda (Claudia’s sister) exhibit. She, unlike the other girls, refuses to befriend a new light-skinned girl in their class and, though she can’t fully articulate why, she hates Shirley Temple. The most engaging use of characters mimics a Greek chorus, as Claudia’s mother and her mother’s friends discuss or gossip about others. Although Morrison often shows readers specific events (such as Cholly’s abuse of Pecola), the chatting women rehash the event and provide further context and perception on the events as Claudia overhears their conversation. This is especially helpful as the nonlinear narrative is sometimes difficult to follow.

With issues at hand such as racism, incest, child abuse, rape, poverty, and other heavy points, Morrison’s novel is mercifully compact while still having a great impact on readers. As a modern classic that continues to be relevant today, The Bluest Eye ties together a heartbreaking story with skillful prose into a read that challenges in more than a few ways. Morrison paints a candid and stark picture of life as a black American in the 1940s but the implications of the novel follow to modern American and shed light on how we can be better humans today.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #17, “Read a classic by an author of color,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage by Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016, 336 pages
Young Adult Fiction

With many, many brave young women coming forward to share their stories of sexual assault, Courtney Summers’ All the Rage certainly finds extreme All the Rage by Courtney Summersrelevance in the lives of young adult readers. Romy, living in a small town where the wealthy get away with what they will and she struggles to get by after her trauma, is one such girl. But after bringing her story to people in authority, the town turns on her. Left with remnants of relationships and the gentle heart of a boy at work, Romy is shocked when an old friend goes missing. Already condemned for coming forward, Romy prepares to once again confront the actions of her assaulter with the hope of preventing more sexual violence.

Summers craftily moves Romy about in a timeline, back and forth with sleight of prose to place the reader in a confused and unsteady mindset. With flashbacks that may or may not be flashbacks and history repeating itself, the story does not always move in a linear fashion, but rather keeps the reader grasping for one anchor or another to determine the order of events. As frustrating as this is — especially if you’re reading this over a long period of time or reading other books concurrently — it has a significant hand in setting the tone and mood for the book, which might not otherwise pack quite the punch that it does. Readers are with Romy, not just in her story, but in her emotional journey from chaotic traumatization to control.

While the book does have a little bit of a thriller angle to it, the treatment of sexual assault is overall sensitive, if gritty. Fairly graphic depictions may deter some readers, but the novel remains an important work for those of us wondering what we can do to better support survivors of sexual assault. Summers creates a rich and realistic world as she handles layers of intersection in the lives of Romy and those who know her. Poverty is clearly an issue in her hometown, as is racism, which we see with Romy’s black sort-of-boyfriend (and his awesome dentist sister, who is miles away from any stereotypes I could think of — yay!). The book deals with privilege from so many different angles, but it never feels bogged down with it. This can be a great opportunity to start conversations for readers who might not know where to start on such topics.

Characters are breathed into fully with symbolic quirks that pull them from the page and onto the couch next to you. Romy’s continuing theme of nail polish as a sort of armor helps outline her character in a way that, while perhaps a bit overdone, is absolutely clear. The same is true for her mother’s boyfriend and all other characters throughout the novel.

All the Rage isn’t perfect. Its excessively unclear at times and can be a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism, but as a piece on a topic that is difficult to discuss and even more difficult to experience, Summers’ novel doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of humans. Summers successfully makes the topic real for those who haven’t experienced it and spurs them to action while providing a tale of strength in the face of vulnerability and pain for those who have.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall

Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall
Swoon Reads, 2015, 288 pages
Young Adult Fiction

The cover of Signs Point to Yes is fit for a queen of bookstagram. With a gorgeous pastel design (and a beautiful matching look for Hall’s other young adult romance, A Little Something Different), of course I had to pick this one up. While the cover art may be a dream, Hall’s novel doesn’t quite meet the standard set by the Easter egg-esque binding.

For Jane, life in general is pressure. Pressure to pick and get into a college, pressure to make money, pressure to come out of the shadow cast by her older sister, pressure to be more. After much nagging from her mother, Jane takes on a nannying job, caring for three young girls who happen to be old friend, Teo’s sisters. As the trope goes, Jane develops feelings for Teo as they interact throughout the summer and Teo finds a confidante in Jane with his best friend, Ravi, out of the country for a while. When Jane discovers Teo is seeking his biological father, she decides to put her strong Internet research skills (thanks, fanfiction) to the test. Teo, meanwhile, has no idea what’s coming.

Signs Point to Yes comes down to a case of seemingly-rushed editing. While the concept is solid, interesting, realistic, and relevant to many modern young readers, the prose simply doesn’t meet the challenge. Hall writes with a simplistic and unpolished style, which, while making a leisurely read, can also make the story boring at times. The simplicity of the prose and the overall plot suggests a novel that might be better suited as a movie. With scenes taking place during sunny summer days at the pool and cool summer nights atop rooftops, the book is certainly picturesque enough to warrant a film version.

Though the parameters of time for the book — summer — are clear, the pacing overall is stilted. Too many words are spent on some unimportant chunk of time and too few on the more significant moments. Despite Teo’s despair at his friend being away for the majority of summer, Ravi appears (or is otherwise indicated to be present in the characters’ lives) more than he is not, making Teo’s complaints seem unfounded. Fourth of July seems to take place farther in the summer than it actually does and the narrative passes onto uncomfortably unexpected plot points that might’ve flown better had the timeline moved at a more natural pace. At the same time, Teo, especially, reacts unreasonably in many situations without any clear logic. Though emotions certainly are not logical by nature, his outbursts do not suit the character that is otherwise drawn for the reader.

But perhaps one of the most irritating things — especially considering its actual impact on the overall book is minimum — is Jane’s obsession with fandom and fanfiction. The obsession itself is not problematic, but rather how this interest is presented in such a way that excludes readers who are unfamiliar with fandom and fandom culture. Hall references fairly common pairings or ships (romantic combinations between fictional characters often expanded upon with fan art or fanfiction, either canon or otherwise), but uses fandom vocabulary and concepts without explaining them. Perhaps readers in fandom will enjoy this inside joke of sorts, but as someone who spent a lot of time in fandom, I found the exclusion to be, well, exclusive. There’s a condescension taking place without being blatant about it, and, though I don’t suppose Hall intended it, it’s another thing that a few more rounds of editing ought to have caught.

Signs Point to Yes is a few hairs below mediocre. It’s not awful and may be worth grabbing at a used bookstore if you’re looking for something quick and maybe a bit bland (palate cleansers are important in reading, too!), but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this one.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015, 272 pages
Fantasy Graphic Novel

With the ability to shapeshift and a great admiration for Lord Ballister Blackheart, Nimona has decided it’s time to be a sidekick. Though her origins are hazy, Nimona will not be denied by Blackheart and she eventually wears him down by taking what she wants and showing up to work against the Institute of Law Enforcement alongside Blackheart. With each battle, Nimona wreaks havoc on Blackheart’s plans but there’s something in Nimona that tugs at Blackheart and perhaps something nefarious going on at the Institute of Law Enforcement. With a mash-up of medieval times and science fiction, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a highly original adventure that is far more than it first appears to be.

One of the impressive things about Nimona is that the story is far more complex than I can get into in a review. There are backstories, lies, hidden identities, layers of loyalty, and all sorts of plot subtleties that round out the story as a whole and complete narrative. With an ending that isn’t entirely conclusive, Stevenson leaves readers with the ability to insert their own ending, but not at the cost of the readers feeling lost or unfulfilled.

Another of Nimona’s strengths is its dedication to humor. The stark visual contrast between Nimona, who is short, pudgy, and pink-haired, to the tall, thin, dark-haired Blackheart is enough to make readers giggle to start, but the real gems come in the form of dialog. Nimona, a chronic over-reactor, regularly spurts lines of hilarity that are not, from her perspective, intended to be funny, but are amusing nonetheless. Stevenson’s skill in employing humor in a story that is so complex might remind some readers of Vonnegut, despite the radically different format. Readers won’t just smile from humor, however; Nimona is ultimately a story of heart and courage. The brand of courage in the graphic novel is more of a surety of oneself rather than, say, Men in Black courage of defeating aliens (although, if you liked Men in Black, you will also very much enjoy Nimona, I think). The book is immensely heartwarming at every turn, though particularly in scenes that feature Nimona and Blackheart alone.

Each character is carefully crafted with their own motivations, desires, backstories, and visual design that both serve to mirror and contradict their personalities. Stevenson succeeds a great deal in playing characters off one another, creating a sense of chemistry that is hard to find in other narratives. With the depth of each character, no relationship can afford to be truly superficial, even in instances of acquaintances.

Nimona is highly relevant for today — the attempt at diversity (which seems to be an excellent and still-emerging theme in media more and more) is evident (the story features a female lead who is decidedly not traditionally feminine outside of her pink hair, a woman in the ultimate seat of power, gay secondary characters, and a secondary character with a prosthetic limb — and not only this, but the primary relationship featured in the story is not of the romantic, or even friend (arguably), variety). Characters of color are few and far between and socioeconomic status appears to be a non-issue in many ways, so there are gaps, but Nimona remains one of the most overtly diverse pieces of fiction I’ve encountered in a while.

The relevance does not end at diversity, however. The politics of Nimona’s world are strikingly similar to what we see in many modern governments — a lack of trust between the government (or, more specifically, the Institute of Law Enforcement — the acronym of which you might notice could be anagrammed to the word “lie” — yeah, maybe I’m pushing it here, but still) and the people of its domain features heavily, though ultimately, the government is not acting on the best interests of the people.

Great for teens and adults alike, Nimona is a fresh take on old tropes that is both fun and thought-provoking (and hilarious). Stevenson’s work on the project was clearly done with loads of love and planning, and, from someone, you’ll remember, who isn’t huge on graphic novels, it comes recommended with four hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Surviving the Death of a Sibling by T. J. Wray

Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies by T.J. Wray
Harmony, 2003, 247 pages
Non-Fiction, Self-Help

There are a whole lot of reasons I don’t want to do this review. I lost my brother to injuries sustained in a car crash in July 2016 and quickly discovered that there are almost no resources for grieving siblings. There are a few Facebook support groups, some hidden in-person groups if you’re lucky, a handful of articles written by people who have probably experienced the death of a sibling but aren’t professionals, and a few obscure books, some of which focus more on being a memoir than on being of use to a grieving sibling. T.J. Wray’s experience losing her own adult brother brought her to write Surviving the Death of a Sibling. The book came highly recommended on the two or three Facebook support groups I’m in and I’d come across it in my search for some kind of literature that would offer practical advice and comfort. So, I read it, and here I am to review it, because I think it’s important we discuss and promote what resources are out there because they are so few.

Wray has a background in religious studies, which may automatically turn some readers off. However, I found the presence of religion to be light in the book, which generally uses the famous stages of grief to move through its content. Although faith of various kinds pop up now and then, Wray does not push any kind of religious agenda nor insist that religion is the way through grief. Her background contributes, however, in making her especially sensitive to the counseling needs of others. Although she experienced her own sibling’s death, she always recognizes the circumstances of other grieving siblings may be very different from her own, and therefore they may find X, Y, Z, or some other, undefined strategy more helpful than what she herself found to be a useful tactic in her process.

For example, while Wray had the benefit of having other siblings to share and understand her grief (although they grieved differently, which caused other challenges), she notes that plenty of siblings suddenly find themselves only children and struggle with that identity, if that is how they choose to view the shift in their life. In other passages, Wray emphasizes that some siblings have the ability to say goodbye, while others do not. She notes this can cause those who watch their siblings pass from illness to go through more than one grieving process (speaking simply, with acknowledgment that the “grief process” isn’t a process in that it eventually comes to an end — it is, in fact, ongoing and evolving rather than something that can ever be considered “finished”), but she also appreciates that many siblings would gladly go through that pain for the chance to say goodbye. Ultimately, Wray’s sensitivity to variables is part of what makes the book so relevant.

Over and over again, I found myself nodding or even stopping to cry when a particularly accurate passage appeared. Wray hits on so many of the things that not only have I felt, but that I’ve seen expressed in the Facebook support groups again and again. Probably most prevalent is the frustration of having the sibling’s grief considered to be disenfranchised. While family, friends, acquaintances, and so on regularly ask siblings how their parents are responding to the tragedy, many forget that the sibling, too, is grieving, and not only this, but has lost a significant part of their past, present, and future.

Wray explains that siblings are often the one constant thing in a person’s life. No one else has quite as similar experiences as our siblings. No one else had our parents or grew up in our home. No one else shares private memories of events at which only the two of you were present. And it’s painful to confront the realization that you are now the sole keeper of these memories and experiences. Maybe you haven’t yet gotten your first “real” job, been married, had children, bought a house — whatever big life events matter to you — and your sibling will not be there to witness them. You’ve lost not only your past, someone with whom to reminisce, but also a part of your future. And any of the events they might have witnessed for you, you may now miss out on witnessing for them.

Earlier chapters of the book are filled with concrete advice readers can put into place in their own lives, particularly for the days immediately following the sibling’s death. Practical advice on funeral arrangements and such are especially useful, though I don’t know that anyone quite has the mind to read in those few free moments during the time of funeral planning.

Wray provides examples not only from her own life, but from a number of interviews she conducted for her research. Ages, causes of death, and other circumstances are varied in these examples, ensuring that readers will find at least a few anecdotes that apply specifically to them. These quotes help to not only offer a source of familiarity of situation but also contribute to the relaxed style of the book. Early on, Wray pledges to write in a style that isn’t overly complicated or burdensome. She recognizes that the reader is probably already overwhelmed and does not need a book full of complex sentence structures and words in the moment. This doesn’t stop the prose from being interesting and engaging, however. Wray is gifted at writing in such a way that holds the attention without drowning the reader.

One drawback I found was outdated resources referenced in the book. A jewelry maker, for example, who does memorial pieces was mentioned in the text and again in the appendix. When I sought out the resource online, I found the jeweler was apparently no longer in business or else known by something else. While I didn’t visit all of the listed resources, I imagine others are now outdated as there has not been a new edition of the book since it was originally published in 2003. (Consequently, I’m hoping to put together a resource list in the next few months.)

Wray’s writing is clear and sympathetic without being pitying. She recognizes the many emotions that come along with being a part of this “club” and offers what wisdom she has gathered over the years since her brother’s death to those who have been grieving for years as well as those who have been grieving for hours or days. If you are a grieving sibling or care about a grieving sibling and wish to better understand their new normal, Surviving the Death of a Sibling is a great place to start.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
McClelland & Stewart, 1985, 311 pages
Dystopian Fiction

As a handmaid, Offred’s life is monotonous. She spends most of her days in the home of those who own her or around town with Ofglen, shopping for the needs of her household. With flashbacks to how the oppressive world of Gilead (modern-day Maine-area) came to be, Offred is only safe in her imagination until she begins to put small amounts of trust in those around her, including the Commander; his wife, Serena Joy; Nick; and Ofglen. Perhaps even those upholding the military dictatorship under which the characters live want something more. But Offred The Handmaid's Tale by [Atwood, Margaret]must first decide if she’s willing to find out at the cost of her life.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic, and there’s no denying that. As it happens, the book is resurging as an important piece of literature as many readers see similarities between the book and our current and future state as a country and as a government. Literature is powerful.

It’s fortunate, as it turns out, that so many are reading it at once. There are plenty of discussions going on about the book and, while I haven’t yet sought any out myself, it’s to the book’s benefit. I was certain as I read the novel that I would have gotten a much better sense of a variety of angles Atwood approaches had I had the opportunity to discuss the book in a classroom or even book club setting. Atwood is no stranger to literary allusions, and I know I missed more than a few in this novel. While many biblical nods are easy to pull out, Atwood no doubt includes many others to works with which I both am and am not familiar. This is not, of course, a shortcoming of the book — in fact, I admire books which handle allusions with skill and subtlety. Instead, it’s a shortcoming of myself and my reading environment.

Atwood writes the book with a first person narrator in the present tense, which requires the reader to continue guessing Offred’s (the narrator) end. With so many authors choosing first-person narration to aid in the surprise of the death of a character, readers might wonder if Offred is approaching her earthly end. I won’t give it away for those who haven’t yet read the book, but this first-person present narration is an interesting choice beyond just the fate of the narrator due to a final chapter in the novel.

Juggling a military dictatorship, a past, a present, and the philosophical feminist ideology throughout the text, Atwood does run into an issue of ambition — maybe. Offred’s descriptions of characters and their personalities beyond the Commander and the caricature of Serena Joy are limited. I never fully felt I got a grasp on any of the characters’ true personalities. I’m caught, however, between believing this was a point for improvement in the novel or if it was deliberate, showing how not only Offred attempts to protect identities from her apparent disobedience at recording her story at all, but also how the regime has forced people into limited displays of their true selves. This isn’t to say that each character is entirely flat — for the most part, they differ from each other and are individuals, just not to the extent I would expect given the skill in craft in other areas.

The same issue occurs with the worldbuilding. While readers do not get a full tour of Gilead and the world beyond Offred’s immediate space in any sense, perhaps this was deliberate. Offred, in her reality, may believe anyone accessing the material she creates is already familiar with Gilead, and so there is no motivation to describe the nuances of the world and make it real (I think of Harry Potter, of course, and the relatively inconsequential Diagon Alley, of which I know far more than even I know about the whole of Gilead). So, unintentional, or deliberate? I can’t say.

Atwood does accomplish a great deal with tension. With strength in syntax and, yes, withholding information, the prose creates an atmosphere that urges the reader onward with a great deal of discomfort, not unlike a great horror movie. Although few moments in the book are truly exciting, the almost-there is what does it for most scenes, the what-ifs and if-only Offred did this or that and oh, she is so close to doing it. The psychology within the novel is projected into the reader’s mind and veins, amping up with every page and bringing it to a crescendo toward the end.

And by the end, we are left with only ourselves to look at.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #16, “Read a book that banned or frequently challenged in your country,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
W. Norton & Company, 1966, 176 pages
Fiction (Published Fan-Fiction)

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea takes a famous secondary (tertiary, really) character of a classic and fleshes her out to full person-hood. As a prequel to Jane Eyre, the novel explores the life of the woman in the attic before she was driven to madness. Her childhood in the Caribbean, her marriage to Edward Rochester, and her imprisonment in his manor are all examined in Rhys’s narrative, supplemented by chapters about Rochester as a young man and his struggles with his unwanted marriage and a wife he perceives as insane. Whether Bertha Mason, known as Antoinette Cosway in Sargasso, is in fact mad in earlier chapters is unclear, though her insanity by the end is clear. The path to that point is muddy, though, resulting in a text that is thought-provoking if confused.

Rhys provides no context for her story, even opting to use an alternative name for Bertha/Antoinette for much of the story and hardly ever naming Rochester. Without the knowledge that Sargasso is, in fact, intended as a prequel to Jane Eyre, readers will find few clues to the connection and may be therefore lost for the purpose of the novel and its implications. This issue of vagueness is exacerbated by a prose style that utilizes dialect (both in pronunciation and grammar) which, while perhaps accurate to the location and helpful in characterization, serves to further obscure the content of the novel in a text that is already confusing.

While Antoinette’s plight is certainly one for pity (at least from what I could tell), it’s difficult to feel sympathy for her when readers are left feeling so uncertain of the events and circumstances. The novel is full of maybes — maybe Rhys’s depiction of people of color who live on the island (generally in a service capacity, as is accurate to history) is racist, but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear; maybe the novel gives Antoinette more agency and calls into question her insanity, but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear; maybe Rhys layers a newer generation of feminism onto what is generally considered to be an early feminist novel (Jane Eyre), but it’s hard to tell when the overall text isn’t clear.

Maybe I’m missing something or was choosing to read this as a leisure read rather than as an academic one. Maybe this book is better suited for the classroom, where discussion around the maybes and professor-provided context can shift the focus to pieces that I overlooked. Wide Sargasso Sea is, no doubt, a great opportunity for scholarly work. But ultimately, it’s not something to read for fun, even for fans of Jane Eyre.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #11, “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location,” and I happily leave it behind with two hearts.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2016, 640 pages
YA Fantasy

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury follows up on A Court of Thorns and Roses (SPOILERS ahead for A Court of Thorns and Roses). For those who read the first in the series, you might feel like the book concluded the narrative enough to not warrant a sequel — the great thing about the sequel, however, is that it turns everything of Thorns and Roses on its head. I’ve struggled with Maas’s work. I wasn’t a big fan of Throne of Glass and gave up sixty pages into the sequel the first time. But reading Thorns and Roses and its sequel convinced me to revisit the Throne of Glass series (and so far, I’m pretty glad for it, even if I still don’t love it). Mist and Fury picks up as Tamlin goes about protecting his lands from various evil forces. With Feyre still living in his castle, Tamlin determines to keep Feyre inside at all times, for the sake of her safety — this, despite Feyre being an accomplished and capable hunter, proven on multiple occasions. Honoring the deal he made with her in Thorns and Roses, Rhys shows up as Feyre makes her way down the aisle at her and Tamlin’s wedding to pluck her from Tamlin’s court and bring her to his for the week. As Feyre is passed between the two courts, Rhys notices the wear Feyre begins to show as a result of Tamlin’s control.

One of the biggest achievements of Mist and Fury is, from my perspective, its complexity. While I generally don’t love overly-political high fantasy, I think Maas strikes a pretty good balance with this series, including enough politics to make the plot plausible but not so much so as to drown the readers in policy, diplomacy, and other red tape. It is complex enough that I can’t easily add it in the summary above, but suffice to say, new players and old players come into antagonistic roles that could destroy more than just Feyre’s life. And it makes for a fascinating read.

Like most books with plenty of politics, however, there’s a whole lot of build-up involved with subtle plot turns which later become more significant with context. Except for a few exciting moments (Rhys’s appearance at the wedding being one — really, any scene with Rhys made for good entertainment; Feyre so seldom interacts with anyone due to her practical imprisonment, that really any appearance by anyone made things more interesting), the first three-hundred pages are slow. But by the end of the book, I was fangirling harder than I have in years. We’re talking approaching-Harry-Potter levels of fangirling. It was great.

Back to Rhys. Maas is an author who you can see takes criticism seriously and works to rectify it in her future writing. Characters in Mist and Fury, but especially Rhys, are developed with not just layers, but layers that make sense and tie into each character’s history and their relationships with each other. Fine subtleties in character are sprinkled throughout the book and each choice, from the way a character holds their fork to the way a character chooses to scream or not to scream in anguish in battle, is fantastically deliberate. It’s evident that Maas plans very carefully, and follows characters’ development not just in the immediate moment, but in their past and future.

I do think the exception here is Feyre. Feyre still winds up being somewhat bland and trite as far as (fantasy) female first-person narrators/main characters go. Feyre’s painting hobby comes back into play, slightly (though still not enough to warrant such a cliché, in my opinion). Even her hobby aside, Feyre does not have an extraordinary amount of personality. While her sisters, who appear in only a few scenes, feel far more real, readers can’t get a full look at Feyre beyond maybe-tough-girl who hunts and paints and is stubborn. But these traits are portrayed with superficial passages most readers will find familiar to many other similarly designed characters in other novels. Maybe this is a trait in and of itself: Feyre cannot accurately portray her own personality through her first-person narration. The series conclusion, which will be out in May, I suspect will give readers more insight on this issue.

Whatever Feyre’s deal, I’m eager for the final book, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Not only does the ominous title make me reach for the May release date, but with the amount of fangirling that went on in the final moments of Mist and Fury (really, Feyre doesn’t have more character than she does in those final moments — wow), I can only imagine what the grand finale will feel like.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls (Volume I) by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Image Comics, 2016, 144 pages
Graphic Novel

Paper Girls, written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Cliff Chiang, got incredibly lucky — not only was the execution fantastic, but it emerged in a year in which Netflix’s Stranger Things took off, providing fans of the show with more fantastic science fiction Eighties nostalgia revolving around kids who display maturity that adults often forget they had as kids. When Erin joins a group in the early morning hours of November 1 to deliver newspapers, she finds empowerment in being part of the first group of girls to serve as paperboys. Although twelve years old, Erin already has a solid grip on the world around her — until everything is turned upside down with two different sets of invaders in her neighborhood who seem to be at war with each other. Are they aliens? Are they from the future? Are they here to harm the people of Erin’s town? Already, the adults have lost their minds and the paper girls are on their own.

Erin’s love of scientists, evidenced by a woman scientist (I’ll keep it a surprise as to who) appearing in her dream, draws the reader in right away. While the girls in Paper Girls are girls, you won’t find any stereotypes here. Each character lives in their own flaws, toughness, capability, and sensitivity, a luxury rarely afforded to female characters particularly in this specific genre (by which I mean a sort of action-adventure about kids in the Eighties, in which you generally either have one token girl amongst a group of boys who, still, is either “girly” or a tomboy with no spectrum between the two, and neither is ever truly viewed favorably).

Instead, though each are different in nuanced ways that make them individuals you might recognize from your own childhood, Mac, Erin, Tiffany, and KJ are not terribly influenced by their gender beyond the pride of being the first of the paper girls in a town of only paperboys. Vaughan’s ability to write real girls sets Paper Girls apart from so many other stories about girls and women. This is especially impressive given that, in reality, the graphic novel is in many ways about what it is to be a girl. Vaughan creates a fascinating and apparent paradox, writing girls who are seemingly genderless by society’s and fiction’s standards while maintaining characters that are more true to girlhood than characters of other narratives that specifically highlight facets of girlhood.

Meanwhile, Vaughan refuses to ignore other important conversations on privilege. Mac, for example, is the embodiment of privileged America. Her dialogue and beliefs can be highly offensive, even within the “historical” context of the Eighties, yet without being too obvious about it, Vaughan nods to the moral issues there. Though Mac’s first utterance of a gay slur was shocking, something beneath the surface of the narrative suggests Mac is in fact being set up for major character development, which is massively exciting — it has been so rare, in my experience, to see true and meaningful character development for adolescent girls in fiction that goes beyond the role of women in relation to men. How refreshing it is to see it unfolding in Paper Girls.

The concept in plot is equally riveting. It’s difficult to say much without giving it away, but I was impressed by the complexity that develops throughout the graphic novel and felt it brought up some great questions and dilemmas, causing the reader to look both inward and outward at themselves, society now, and society in the future. The premise is loaded with relevant allegories, but is supposed heavily by a great story that promises to get even better.

Finally, a word on the art — I often, as I’ve mentioned before, struggle with art in graphic novels. Though I recognize it’s an inherent and important part of graphic novels, I typically find it distracting and overwhelming. Chiang’s illustrations for Paper Girls, however, are mind-blowing. The simplicity of colors and outlines with a jaw-dropping and buzzing palette made me want to get large prints of several of the panes to decorate my walls with. I loved this art, from the style to the execution to the concept, and I can’t overstate how engaging it made the material as a whole.

Paper Girls does have moments of confusion. As a first volume, I expect some of that is intentional as we learn more about what is actually going on and about the world in which the story takes place. I’ll be watching my libraries for Volume II, to find out what happens next and get another eyeful of that spectacular art. If you’re a fan of Eighties nostalgia revival, complex girl characters, and science fiction (or even if you’re not a fan of any of those things but trust me just a little bit), I hope you’ll join me.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Flicker and Mist by Mary Thompson

A while back, I started reviewing as a volunteer for School Library Journal and Library Journal. My contract with them is such that I can share the reviews I’ve published with them six months after they appear in the journal. The first review I wrote for School Library Journal was for Flicker and Mist by Mary Thompson. If your library catalog includes published reviews for materials as does the Arlington Public Library, you can see my name alongside reviews I’ve written for a handful of books so far. Check out what I had to say about Flicker and Mist below!

Gr 9 Up—Thompson serves up important questions in this dystopian fantasy about an unusual love triangle and a heroine pushed to the edge. In New Heart City, which values those without magical abilities over those with them, Myra must deny an inherited part of herself in order to stay safe. After the Flickerkin, who can become invisible at will, are blamed for planting an explosive device at a race, New Heart’s leaders begin jailing and threatening the execution of anyone with Flickerkin blood. With her mother in prison and her father in a precarious political position, the teen must rely on herself and her friends to survive. The novel starts with a heavy dose of exposition typical of this genre, and although it moves at a slower pace than action-filled works such as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and its successors, this title invites readers to ponder big political and social questions, many of which are easily applicable to contemporary life. Myra comes across as a somewhat passive character until the climax approaches and she and her friends take things into their own hands. This change speeds up the pace and brings the narrative to an adrenaline-filled close. VERDICT For those who can’t get enough dystopian fiction, this work offers another look at governing-gone-wrong, with central themes of equality and racism.

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