Review: BloodRealms by Aurora Whittet

aurorawhittet_bloodrealmsWerewolf Princess, chosen one of the legends and eligible bachelorette is back. This is the second book in a series, and…I tried to like it. I really did. I love the cover. The back blurb frames the Chosen One story in a way that makes it sound like Ashling is trying to fight for some autonomy in spite of this great destiny.

But in this book, she’s not. She’s deeply in love with Grey, the wolf/Bloodsucker/outcast who saved her from torture and rape in the last book (a rape that would by her culture make her completely worthless and an outcast. In fact we readers are treated to a number of “love scenes” wherein Ashling bemoans her inability to actually have sex with Grey, and a number of other moments where a woman’s value is what she brings to men and Ashling hates it, but never does much to fight it. She goes out of her way NOT to break these rules because of the shame it would bring to the men around her.) Grey is…less than wonderful. He’s not a terrible person, but like a delicate Victorian damsel (and Ashling) he’s not much more than a male to be the other half to her female, to protect her and desire her. He speaks in stilted, poetic phrases and gets crazy jealous about other men. Men that Ashling’s father are forcing in battle through the deadly BloodRealms in an effort to kill Grey and plant the wolf he wants as Ashling’s husband.

Yup, it’s that kind of story. Wholly grating and enraging in its attitudes and tolerance under the guise of the main characters being “helpless” to stop how their culture is.

Ashling, who has already been kidnapped, tortured and knows HER FATHER is trying to kill her man, tells her super loyal, very mysterious bodyguard to bugger off (she literally tells him to “take the night off”, flippantly) so she and Grey can run off to a beach and make out and sleep alone together under the stars (sure, romantic, but not very smart at all.) Then, after much bemoaning about how unfair the world (her father) is Ashling travels to an underground werewolf stronghold in Ireland where (her brother? Her sister? Some family member I never figured out) is getting married and Ashling is serving as a bridesmaid.

Virtually none of the interesting stuff is described. The werewolf tunnels? The other people? The journey? The wedding itself takes only a paragraph or two. But there are pages about how people are watching Ashling and how it’s unfair that Grey wasn’t invited to the wedding too. Because after all the trauma she’s been through Ashling needs Grey to ward off the panic and fear that overcomes her.

But she also spends a little time with the man she has been betrothed to by her father, Brychan. Brychan is a warrior. But he is kind, protective of her, and he gets her blood racing. But she still kisses him, multiple times. Moans about how she might have made a mistake in dismissing him.

And I was just done. Ashling’s father is mean, overbearing and sexistly male. Her mother is still with him and defends him even though she is helping Ashling and Grey. Most males are sexist, strong assholes who constantly want something from Ashling (who is pretty and special, and the only red-haired werewolf…from Ireland. That’s why she is the chosen one. Because of her hair and skin.) No time, at all, is spent trying to find ways to fight the culture, find allies in her quest to be with Grey, confronting, inspiring, or even talking to people. Ashling hides in her room and bemoans not getting her way, which comes down to getting to marry this man she and we know nothing about other than she is very attracted to him. A 17 year old is madly attracted to a man and wants to marry him and does not tell us, the reader anything about this person, why he’s a good person or why he’s a better choice than any other person around her.

The focus was entirely on Ashling’s emotions and not on the culture, the method she was fighting for her right to live her own life, or even on the plots that were going on around her. Maybe some reader would be engaged by that kind of storytelling, but clearly this book isn’t for me.

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Book Review: The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

From ML’s Circulation Desk

51o1cgJhqoL._SL250_Two Lions, 2014
ISBN: 9781477847251
Available: Hardcover, Kindle edition

The Blood Guard is the first book in a trilogy by Carter Roy. In this snarky comic adventure, we meet Evelyn Ronan Truelove (who simply wishes to be called Ronan). Ronan is an oddball. A bit of a loner, his mother has had him heavily programmed with gymnastics, kendo, judo, and wilderness survival classes since he was 5. At the age of 13, Ronan discovers his mother waiting for him after school, and well before any extracurricular classes begin. She drives him off to the train station, where she has a fight with some shadowy figures in suits, and Ronan learns her mom is part of an ancient organization, The Blood Guard. When Ronan’s mom disappears, he suddenly finds himself in the company of a pickpocket named Jack and a sarcastic girl named Greta, who inform Ronan that he is to be inducted into the Blood Guard.

The Blood Guard protects the 36 “pure souls” of the world from the evil intentions of the Bend Sinister. The Bend Sinister is a band of villains whose sole purpose is to cause havoc by toying with the number of pure people in the world. Great and terrible historical events have occurred as a consequence of the Bend Sinister successfully removing even just a few of the pure ones.

I love this book. It’s warm, funny and very irreverent. Carter Roy’s command of snarky humor is most excellent. Highly recommended for young adult readers, particularly if you like action comedies or fantasy adventures.

Contains: Violence and light profanity.

Reviewed by Benjamin Franz

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Soul Eater: Part 1 Episode 6

 

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The New Student: Kid’s First Day at the Academy- Will it be an Entrance to Remember?

In the last Episode Death the Kid voluntarily became an Academy student in order to help budding meisters he thought were in danger. In this episode he has to actually start showing up, therefore exposing himself to the very non-symmetrical world around him. (Seriously the Soul Eater world is a little Wonderland-madish.)

Because Black Star has the ego the size of a planet he just can’t stand a bigger star than him moving into the school. So he skips class and decides to initiate a fight with Death the Kid to put him in his place. Unfortunately Death the Kid is much more powerful and more attuned to his weapons, the Thompson twins. Even the power of friendship can’t help Soul and Black Star work together as weapon and meister to battle Death.

But…they do happen to land a “fatal blow” and learn of Death the Kid’s horrific weakness. Young male egos are alike, no matter who is in their genetics, I suppose.

While this episode is yet more set up, and could kill a viewer from the testosterone poisoning, it’s also finally moved all the characters into place for some Life Lessons, and hopefully some demon battles.

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Review: The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever by Jeff Strand

zombieStrand is known for his humorous horror books. My favorites are A Bad Day for Voodoo and Wolf Hunt (the last is very much not YA). His loyal readers might come into this one expecting a teenage zombie movie getting taken over by real zombies. And they will be disappointed (but he says so at the beginning).

This book is not a Strand zombie book, it’s an ode to the long time legacy of movie making, the heroic independent filmmaker spirit, and the modern technology that lets anyone be an artist. Strand might lace this story with jokes and comedic timing, but in the end he’s telling the sad tale of three kids who are trying desperately to still believe in movie magic, the Santa-Bunny idea that if you try hard enough you can become rich and famous on the silver screen with a hand held camera, some photo shop and Youtube.

As a reader, you know this is going to be a disaster. Justin, the director is full of hubris. His best friends are not sure how serious they are about all this, but many times they lean heavily toward “hobbyist” rather than “True Believer”. Uncle Clyde, their special effects man is a mess, and a danger to them all to boot. By the end of the book you feel bad laughing at Justin’s misery, and yet I’m sure you can think of some ill-conceived plan from your own childhood that worked out as well (I tried to make spy gadgets like M from the Bond films, with no understanding at all of engineering.)

Readers looking for tales of magic or monsters gone wrong won’t find what they want in this book. But readers looking for guilty laughs and a very determined lead will find some fun here.

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Book Review: The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

From ML’s Circulation Desk

510VcoieUNL._SL250_G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0399256622
Available: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle edition, Audio

Secret societies, mass murder, a journey into the land between life and death, and a cataclysmic event that threatens to destroy all of London—The Shadow Cabinet is full of action, intrigue, and answers that are exactly what fans of the Shades of London series have been waiting for.

The third installment of Maureen Johnson’s Edgar-nominated, bestselling series picks up where the cliffhanger ending of Johnson’s last book, The Madness Underneath, left off. Rory Deveaux has the ability to see and destroy ghosts. She and other the other members of the ghost squad, still reeling from the death of Stephen, are on a search for answers. What they discover leads them to an ancient cult, a sinister plot, and a final showdown unlike anything they’ve encountered before.

Fans of conspiracy theories and Illuminati-like, secret organizations will delight in the secrets that are uncovered in The Shadow Cabinet. The ending leaves readers with no doubt that big things are coming for Rory and the rest of the squad.

Johnson’s characters are diverse and captivating. Rory’s offbeat humor and innate ability to find herself in difficult situations makes her a protagonist readers can easily connect with. Narcissistic siblings Sid and Sadie offer a hypnotizing blend of detachment, egocentric affection, and twisted, hilarious interactions that will simultaneously delight and unnerve readers. Johnson’s wit lends itself beautifully to the development of both the storyline and the characters.

The Shadow Cabinet offers ample background for readers who have not read the first two books in the series, without bogging down established fans with an unnecessary retelling of events. This third installment could easily stand on its own as an intriguing read. Recommended for ages 12 and older.

Reviewed by Heather Hurley

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Musings: Invisible Disabilities in Horror for YA Readers

From ML’s Circulation Desk, By Kirsten

Disability is one way that monsters are created in the horror genre. Monstrosity is usually expressed visually, though, especially in the classic texts– think The Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mr. Hyde of Jekyll and Hyde fame. Or if we don’t actually see the disfigurement, many monsters, from the Phantom of the Opera to Michael Myers, are masked. Physically marking a character is a way of representing that person as the “other”; abnormal in some way, which is disturbing to those who see themselves as “normal”. It is a problematic representation of disability in literature, and I think we see it more strongly in the horror genre because for so many people it is disturbing and scary to face anyone who isn’t like them. Mary Shelley’s description of Frankenstein’s monster and his friendship with the little blind girl is a perfect example of how dependent we are on sight as a cue to decide who is a monster and who is not.

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What about the disabilities that aren’t immediately visible? Yes, those do very much exist, and shape personality. Putting aside the curse of paranormal abilities, like the”Typhoid Mary” powers Jenny Morton displays in Jenny Pox, disabilities and disorders that can’t be seen do appear in horror, especially as victims. What’s really neat to see is when a character with an invisible disability flips that trope over. But honestly, as someone who has epilepsy, I can tell you that ANY recognition of my disability that appears in fiction, no matter how problematic, has always been welcome (even when I hate the depiction) because it means I’ve been seen. And it meant even more to me when I was a teen, because there really was absolutely nothing at all. Here are five books you could hand to a teen dealing with an invisible disability.

51RuP7pBWFL._SL160_A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

This is not technically a YA novel, but it is told from the point of view of a young woman, with extensive flashbacks to her childhood, and the central character is a teen dealing with… we don’t know exactly what. Teenaged Marjorie might be possessed, or she might be developing schizophrenia. It is actually possible to meet someone with schizophrenia and not know that’s the case. And as far as I remember, schizophrenia is not mentioned outright, even though Marjorie is under the care of a psychiatrist at the beginning of the story. This is actually one of the more visual depictions of an invisible disability, as Marjorie’s actions also suggest that she might be possessed, which lands her family on a reality television show.

51uFjrDJaWL._SL160_A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

This is the first book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy. It’s almost an trope for a British girl who grows up in India in the late 1800s to be sent to England for further education after her mother dies, usually at a boarding school, and that’s what happens to Gemma, who is also clairvoyant. She and her friends discover an entrace to magical realms where they can have their hearts’ desires– darker than it sounds. One of Gemma’s friends, Pippa, has epilepsy, and during a seizure travels to the magical realms. Pippa must keep her epilepsy a secret, so she won’t be discovered to be “damaged goods” before she can be married. Gemma follows her, but Pippa has found true love there and refuses to return to a life of illness. Pippa’s story brought tears to my eyes. I found Bray’s straightforward descriptions of Pippa’s seizures to be accurate, although you should never put a wooden spoon in anyone’s mouth.

617b4OHhmCL._SL160_The Dark Between by Sonia Gensler

I’ve just finished this one, and I really recommend it. It also takes place near the turn of the 20th century, when spiritualism was in vogue. Three teenagers brought together by coincidence turn out to have more in common than they expected come across some mysterious murders that might have something to do with electrical experiments to enhance the brain with psychic powers. Kate, the youngest, is an impoverished orphan who loses her job as a “spirit guide” for a medium when the medium is exposed by a skeptic. Asher is an American teen at loose ends, traveling alone, who is considering attending Cambridge. Elsie is a dreamy, beautiful girl who has been sent away by her parents, whose mind is clouded by drugs she takes to control her epilepsy. Elsie’s seizures began after she was struck by lightning, and she can see visions of the dead during them. The attitudes Elsie has faced and expects to face after the secret of her epilepsy is exposed, and her drugged feelings, make her a more sympathetic character than you would expect, as she is not especially thoughtful or rational. Elsie is no Beth March, shy and pure; she’s drawn as a complex character, a real girl with burgeoning sexuality and intense emotions who makes bad decisions that make you want to smack her. Score one for Sonia Gensler in her development of a character with epilepsy who has more than one dimension.

51iZED6eE-L._SL160_Dark Muse by David Simms

Muddy, Poe, Otis, and Corey are The Accidentals, a band of misfits. All four love music, and all four have problems they have to face. Muddy is dyslexic, Poe is legally blind and has a difficult home situation, Otis has brittle bones, and Corey has a checkered past and is a year behind in school. When Muddy’s older brother Zack, a troubled and gifted guitarist, disappears at “the crossroads”, Muddy and the rest of The Accidentals decide to cross over to an alternate reality where music has real power, and find him. Author David Simms has worked with many special education students, and draws realistic, sympathetic portraits of his characters. It’s cool to see ordinary, music-loving kids with disabilities as the heroes of the story.

51eokXQs5FL._SL160_Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

Sixteen year old Kendall has obsessive compulsive disorder. She’s been able to function in a carefully constructed world, and that begins to disintegrate when a girl disappears, and then, shortly after that, her boyfriend. Did Kendall have something to do with the disappearances? Or will her obsessiveness lead her to become a victim? Kendall is a very sympathetic character struggling with a difficult situation that is complicated by her obsessive compulsive disorder.

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Soul Eater: Part 1: Episode 5

souleater5-1

Shape of the Soul- Enter The Ultimate Meister Stein?

After defeating Sid the zombie the Soul Eater crew goes after Sid’s maker, the totally twisted Dr. Stein. Once a Meister (who experimented on Maka’s father for years and helped turn him into the sobbing mess he is today) Dr. Stein went off the rails in the name of science, experimenting on himself and everything around him. He turned himself into a patchwork monster, but a monster who is well educated in the ways of the meisters, and definitely more skilled than any of the students sent to defeat him.

Even Death the Kid worries for the students, rushing to help them, and enrolling himself in the school so he can do so, against the wishes of his father.

But Sid and Dr. Stein have a number of tricks up their sleeves and the students simply cannot win this one.

The tail end of this episode fixes the only issue I had with this episode and the previous one, which was even though these wicked powerful bad guys were tearing up our heroes, they were still taking the time to explain things and teach the kids. I guess teacher habits die hard.

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Book Review: Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz

From ML’s Circulation Desk

51u643G2a9L._SL250_Disney-Hyperion, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1484720974
Available: Hardcover, Audible, Audio CD, Kindle edition

The premise of Isle of the Lost is that all the Disney villains, along with their children, have been imprisoned on an island without any magic or access to technology, by King Beast (of Beauty and the Beast). King Beast rules over Auradon, where all the “good” characters from Disney movies live with their children. That works out well for the princes and princesses, but not so much for the sidekick characters, who are working hard and not seeing much in the way of reward.

In Auradon, Prince Ben, the son of King Beast, is about to turn sixteen and take over as king, with very little past experience or guidance in governing. On the Isle of the Lost, Mal, daughter of the fearsome Maleficent, is ready to take down Evie, daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White. Her allies include the clever, amoral, thieving Jay (son of Jafar) and the nerdy, easily bullied, mad scientist-in-training, Carlos de Vil. While Mal plans evil schemes against Evie, Carlos invites her to see his new invention, which he hopes will poke a hole in the force field that separates the Isle of the Lost from access to magic, a wireless connection, and better television reception… and it works. The magic of Maleficent’s fortress begins to wake, and she sends Mal to retrieve her wand, accompanied by Jay, Carlos, and Evie.

What’s interesting about Isle of the Lost is that every kid in the book really cares about living up to parental expectations, even though the parents are frequently neglectful, superficial, or abusive. Evie’s mother, Evil Queen, is hyper-focused on appearance, and Evie is always perfectly made up. Mal is determined to be as evil as possible to impress her mother. Jay steals to provide stock for Jafar’s junk shop. Carlos keeps Cruella’s furs in perfect condition. Mal, Jay, Evie, and Carlos are not especially sympathetic characters. They lie, steal, vandalize, and put each other in physical danger, and they really don’t care that they might have done damage, but somehow, de la Cruz manages to make them relatable. She does a great job at developing their characters as they try, fail, and begin to reinvent themselves and the way they see the world. The part of the book that takes place on the Isle of the Lost has a dark, gritty feel to it, and the part that takes place in Auradon suggests that not everything is as perfect as it seems.

Isle of the Lost is a media tie-in to a Disney XD made-for-television movie titled Descendants, which was shown on July 31, but it doesn’t have much in common with it outside of the initial premise of the children of Disney villains imprisoned without magic and Internet. The director of the movie, Kenny Ortega, described it as a Disney fairytale-based version of High School Musical, in which Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay are chosen to attend high school with the princes and princesses in Auradon. I only saw the trailer, but I can tell you that the tone of the movie is completely different than that of the book. In fact, I would say that the Ever After High books by Shannon Hale are a much better match, even without the Disney aspect.

Disney marketing claimed that they aren’t expecting this to become a franchise, but I have difficulty believing that. I frankly am surprised they went the route of making a made-for-television movie instead of a series. The book is being marketed as a prequel to the story in the movie, but I’m really hoping it is the first in a series. Typically I am not a fan of books where the story ends without the plot being resolved, but I’m really intrigued by this one and would be interested in seeing where de la Cruz takes it. The book has sold really well, and I can’t say I am surprised. However, readers of the book may be surprised at the differences between book and movie (and vice versa). Isle of the Lost isn’t deep, but if you like your Disney villainous, this is a great dark and twisted fairytale read.

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Book Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

From ML’s Circulation Desk

518m3qxY5QL._SL250_St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0312573805
Available: Paperback, Audible, Audio CD, Kindle edition

Anyone feeling nostalgic for the glory days of high school will drop that nostalgia right in the trash bin within pages of beginning Some Girls Are. Our protagonist, Regina, is the best friend of the high school Mean Queen, Anna, and as the only sober person at a party she decides to do her duty as the designated driver and take Anna, who has passed out, home, over the vehement objections of Anna’s boyfriend, Donnie. who then attempts to rape Regina. Regina flees the party, ending up at her “friend” Kara’s. Kara convinces Regina to stay quiet, but uses the information to convince Anna that Regina slept with Donnie. Anna’s revenge is to knock Regina from the top of the high school pecking order to the very bottom. Anna orders her friends and hangers-on to persecute Regina, and Kara makes it her personal mission to destroy Regina in every way, even establishing an online social media page dedicated to hating her. While some of the attacks are over-the-top, and it’s rather alarming that not a single adult picks up on what’s going on, Summers still managed to make me a witness to the events and emotions that carry the story.

You would think the attacks on her would make Regina a sympathetic character, but she’s not. As Anna’s right hand she’s been there and done this to other kids at Anna’s bidding, including Liz, who attempted suicide, and Michael, now labeled “most likely to become a school shooter”. And it’s clear that Regina knew exactly what she was doing, if not its complete impact: she felt guilty, but she wasn’t a blind participant. She knows herself well enough that she doesn’t expect others to like or forgive her, and fights back viciously against her former friends whenever she has the opportunity. The way the teens in this book treat each other is often brutal and callous, and there is plenty of schadenfreude, selfishness, cowardice, and anger to go around. But there’s also a tiny ray of hope as Regina and Michael begin to build a tentative connection. The entire thing has the feel of The Chocolate War, if Jerry Renault had fought back, or found even a momentary kindness.

Regina has a strong voice and even though she is not a particularly sympathetic character, I grew to respect her and hope for her continued positive development. It’s not necessary to like her to be appalled by her treatment. I felt that Summers did a good job of presenting the multiple faces and feelings of important characters like Michael, Kara, and Liz, although I would have liked to know a little more about Regina’s previous relationship with Liz. While Anna and her other friends were pretty flat, the characters Summers did choose to develop were definitely three-dimensional.

Some Girls Are was recently challenged in South Carolina, and I can see why a parent would be uncomfortable with this book. Sexual assault, bullying, drug use, and suicide are difficult to read about or talk about, and no parent wants to believe this could be happening in their own child’s school. This is a gripping and horrifying read, especially because the monsters are human rather than supernatural, and it rings true. If this is the kind of thing kids today are facing in high school, a book like Some Girls Are, at least for mature readers, definitely has a place. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

Contains: bullying, sexual assault, underage drinking, drug use, attempted suicide, language.

Reviewed by Kirsten Kowalewski

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Soul Eater: Part 1: Episode 4

283996-soul_eater_episode_4_super

Engage The Witch Hunter- A Remedial Lesson in the Graveyard?

After the mess our three teams ran into in their prologues it’s clear to Death that they need more work. Death wants them to investigate the case of their former teacher, Sid, who was killed and turned into a zombie. Now he’s “encouraging” students of Death’s school to “free themselves” of the fear being alive brings. Or he’ll just make them fear-free by killing them and turning them into zombies himself.

Plus Sid’s replacement is Maka’s creepy father.

Soul, Maka, Black Star, and Tsubaki must fight their evil, and very deadly former teacher, learn to expand their skills and hunt down the person who turned Sid into a zombie; Dr. Frank Stein. (Who happens to also have history with Maka’s father.)

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