Jul 8, 2015

They Belong To Me, or Why The Invasion of the Tearling Was Awesome

WARNING: Seriously this time, the following post contains beaucoup spoilers for Erika Johansen's sequel "The Invasion of The Tearling." Unlike other posts where I clearly say 'spoiler warning' and only hint at certain things, this is a legit 'go away now' if you plan on reading either of the books in the series and want to remain spoiler-free. If not, read on at your own risk, but I fully plan on talking about a TON of details from the book. You were warned.

OK first off: if you haven't read the first book in this series, hereafter referred to as QOTT, you need to go do that. I started reading it after BEA last year when a friend sent me a galley and I should have known there would be galleys this year too for book 2 but I foolishly skipped BEA. I am SO glad I only had to wait a couple of weeks for the release because it was much better than I expected and well worth the yearlong wait between publications.

Here's some background if you aren't  familiar with the first book: The Tearling books follow the story of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, the true Heir to the Tear throne and the Tearling kingdom. For most of her life she is kept hidden away from a life of royalty and leadership for fear of assassination, but is still taught the ways and means to be a great queen. When her mother, the Queen, is assasinated and Kelsea comes of age, she must assume the throne so her awful uncle, The Regent, won't hold power. Suffice it to say she does become Queen and basically outlaws the selling and trading of slaves, becomes a benevolent leader, etc. Everyone seems to like her at the end of QOTT, but she is really only a teenager and still learning about the world when she reaches the end of the first book. Sure, there were assassination attempts on her and she overcomes many obstacles, but by the end of the first book, there is still an impending conflict with a nearby Kingdom called Mortmesne and their evil Red Queen. It leaves a little to be desired.

Sounds like your typical fantasy YA right? WRONG. This is a sci-fi epic and I will tell you how that is possible.

Throughout the first book there are all of these references to "the crossing" and a past world that sounds much like our own. How can our world exist in the past if this is a medieval present, you ask? We don't get an answer to that in Book 1, but basically you read the entire book thinking you will maybe get a hint while Johansen references how there are "Tolkien and Rowling volumes in the library" and how "before the crossing there was modern medicines and technology" etc. You basically rack your brain: are we on a different planet? Was this a spaceship crossing? Did we discover a new land mass and did we cross an ocean that developed as a result of global warming? What gives?

To boot, Kelsea's world has magic. I mean, honest to god magic, in the form of internal powers and magical artifacts. So how does that work? Does this planet have magic? You have to go through about a hundred possible theories in your head until the end of Book 1 where you get no answers. Again, it leaves something to be desired.

Until book 2. Until you meet Lily Mayhew. Until you see The Crossing with your own eyes. Until you meet William Tear, the reason this Kingdom is even called The Tearling.

Obviously I won't recount he entire story for you, but suffice it to say that Kelsea's magical artifacts, the Tear Sapphires, allow her to have magical abilities. She recreates her appearance, she can cause pain with her mind, and throughout the book she frequently "travels" into the mind of a character who lives in a not oo distant future from ours (Lily). It's not exactly a dystopia, thank god, but more of a logical progression of what could happen if we gave a government official a bit too much power.

Lily lives in a future set about forty years from now, where the worst fears of the 'Occupy' movement have come to pass. In fact, the rich are now so rich that they literally build walls to keep out the poor. To boot, a security force exists to ensure that all folks are compliant with the laws of the country and if you defy them you basically get renditioned (they stick you in a cell somewhere and basically make it like you never existed). Lily is one of these rich folks, in a walled compound, with a crazy abusive husband and no reason to live because if he gets her pregnant she'll never be able to get away. The worst part is for years she thought all of it was NORMAL and she had a perfect life. And did I mention in this future it's okay for men to basically subdue their wives because women are considered subservient? Yeah, even more reasons to detest this future.

So how does this affect Kelsea? It turns out the two are connected in some way and are travelling into each other's mind. Kelsea needs answers to help with her war and Lily needs the strength to escape her awful abusive life, so the two women help achieve each other's goals.

I will say my favorite parts are when Greg dies and when the Red Queen can't use the sapphires. The phrase "They belong to me" is so powerful I wanted to high five Kelsea in that moment. And while parts of Lily's journey were obvious (of course she is related to Kelsea and of course she and Tear will have a baby and name him Jonathan) I NEVER would have guessed that the crossing was time travel. The question that remains now is have they also traveled to another timeline/dimension/world? And are they creating the future? And how do the Cadare, Mortmesne and the other lands get formed? Johansen clearly knows how to leave readers wanting more.

I really liked how Lily's story changed the dynamic of the books. I will admit that one of the first reasons I read the first book was because Emma Watson had wanted to produce and star in the film versions, but at that point I assumed it was pure fantasy. Even when you think you have them figured out, these books confuse and bewilder and enchant you,  much like the Tear Sapphires. That is why I am glad I stick with the series. I am all for a story that keeps you guessing.

I feel bad for Pen, getting the shitty end of the stick and there was also not nearly enough of The Fetch in this volume. I will say, however, that Johansen really writes a villain well. Also, she shows how not all heroes are perfect and everyone is fallible and subject to temptation.

Put simply, these are not YA books (a lot of graphic scenes that would get a warning on TV or an R rating in a theater) and not your typical fantasy or sci-fi stuff. This is an original story and that is why I think it will make an excellent film series.

If you need to escape, you should really read these books. They're fun, scary, romantic, adventurous, and just well-written. I recommend them for people who were dissatisfied with their last fantasy novel. They are a breath of fresh air.


I am currently on my choice for Book 4 of the 10 in 10 Challenge, "The Maze Runner" by James Dashner, so I hope to finish that in the next few days. I am also a bit behind in the HP Rereading Group, but I should have my first ten-chapter wrap-up for Chamber of Secrets very soon. Stay tuned and Happy Reading!

Jul 7, 2015

All The Nerdy References, or A Review of "Extraordinary Means" by Robyn Schneider

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for Extraordinary Means. If you are currently reading or plan to read this book, please read on at your own risk. Full disclosure: I have known Robyn Schneider personally for many years, but I was in nooooooo way asked to write this review our compensated in any way. I didn't even get a galley this time around! (JK, love you Robyn!)

I love the way Robyn writes. On one hand, she writes with such a heart and such an intelligence you can tell she is whip smart and has a lot of emotions about her characters. On the other hand, she writes the nerdiest nerd books for nerds who nerd.

Much like her previous book, "The Beginning Of Everything," this newest novel is a YA story where something sad/tragic brings unexpected adventures and young people together. But that is truly where the similarities end because "Extraordinary Means" is about loss and love and understanding that the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Lane and Sadie are living two completely different lives but with the same diagnosis (the fictional disease 'total drug resistant tuberculosis') and in the same place (a sanitarium called Latham House where young people are sent to relax, take part in light exercise and "learn").  They've met before, but their memories of each other are very different indeed.

Once they do become friends, a romance quickly blossoms. The supporting  characters at Latham are also cool: there's the intellectual gamer, the recording artist, and the anime girl to name a few. I told you: with nerds, for nerds. I want to focus on why this book is worth your time, however.

Lane is a typical Type A kid. When he arrives at Latham he still thinks he needs to maintain his perfect scores, his perfect record, and that he can still get in to the best school. What he learns is that this will not be his path because he had TDR-TB. Sadie, who has been at Latham for over a year when Lane arrives, has accepted that the life she had will not be her path, so she decides instead to become the MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) trope and redefine herself. Both are scared, but both need each other and that need is what is explored in their story.

I loved how even though a lot of these themes and ideas exist in other books, they've never been explored through the narrative of a sanitarium or during an outbreak of a contagion. It's also set in the present day, and as I mentioned earlier packed with nerdy references galore, as opposed to some weird dystopia where the contagion was the government's plot all along (shock! gasp!).

In telling this story, Robyn really taps into why it is better to have loved and lost than not to have even tried. Also important: the characters who do not survive TDR-TB aren't pained as tragic: they're shown as examples of how we can all choose our own path and that every day we have matters.

I liked this book more than TBOE. When Robyn first told me about what she called "the severed head book," I was excited for her, but I wasn't anxious to get my hands on it. About a year later, she mentioned she was working on something with "terminally ill teens" and "vampires with tuberculosis." My first reaction was to make sure she knew she would have stiff competition: after all, John Green's "The Fault In Our Stars" had been set for publication at that point and we knew it was about two terminally ill teens. She assured me that this was different and that she could tell she was on to something. It was that response that made me far more excited for what would become Extraordinary Means.

I am so proud of all that she has accomplished, especially this book. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a new twist on a YA novel,  or anyone who is a little dystopia'ed out. And for those non-YA readers out there: this is a great breezy beach read.


My review for "Invasion of the Tearling" by Erika Johansen should be up tomorrow. Happy Reading!

Jul 6, 2015

A Review of "None of The Above," or This Should he Required High School Reading

The following post contains spoilers and somewhat NSFW language regarding IW Gregorio's "None of the Above." If you plan to read it, which you really must, be advised that you have been warned.

This was the first book in my 10 in 10 Reading Challenge. That's reading 10 books in 10 weeks. And I know what you are thinking:

"You can barely finish one book in two years!"

Well you're wrong. With friends taking part to motivate me, and keeping a shortlist of books I have wanted to read for ages (and it also being summertime with less TV shows airing) I have just begun week 3 and I am already on Book 4. Here is my first 10 in 10 review.

"None of the Above" by IW Gregorio tells a story of a girl named Kristin Lattimer who seems to have everything going for her: she's a High School track star, she's bound to be in the homecoming court, she's already got a college scholarship lined up and she has plenty of friends (and is dating one of the best looking athletes in school). But all that gets turned inside out when she finds out something about herself after her "first time" turns out to be more painful than pleasurable.

Kristin learns she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and that she was born with male testes internally and differing chromosomes from. Typical females. She hasn't ever had a menstrual cycle but she always blamed it on her athleticism, until she finds out AIS women are usually born without a uterus and are therefore infertile. This condition, which falls under the umbrella of Differences of Sex Development, is sometimes called intersex.

The story continues to chronicle what happens as she is confronted by the reality many young women (and men) go through when discovering their intersex condition. This incliudes depression, secrecy, shame, loneliness and so much more. Without going into too much detail, Krissy's complicated situation doesn't stay secret for long and the resulting story is quite an emotional and realistic journey.

I really loved this book because I have read about and studied some DSDs and I can say with full confidence Gregorio's narrative is spot-on. The secrecy and confusion and anger regarding intersex conditions is still so prevalent in our society, even as LGBTQIA issues are at the forefront of both culture and politics.

I think every young person should have to read this book, either in English or Sexual Health class in high school/secondary school, so they may understand that being born different is not limited to physical external characteristics. Everyone is unique and there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to a DSD.

Onething I did find interesting: While some intersex activists have reclaimed the word "hermaphrodite" just as LGBTQIA activists have reclaimed "queer," the term is antiquated and ugly and Gregorio's use in Krissy's story is pejorative and rightly so.

Truly, I could not put this book down and it wasn't because of a personal interest in the subject matter. Krissy is someone we all know; she's the girl next door. In fact, chances are we have all met someone with intersex characteristics, as they occur as frequently as 1 in every 2,000 births. Krissy is average, typical until she discovers her condition, and while her story is transformative both physically and emotionally, it is truly her DSD status that makes her unique.

Please read this book and write a review on Goodreads for it. You will be glad you did. And there might be a kid who reads your review who has AIS and yours could be the one that makes unemployment read on and realize they are not alone.

Reviews forthcoming for books 2 and 3 of the 10 in 10 challenge. Happy reading!