It makes me sad to give this such a low rating because until now I have loved everything that I've read of Lauren Oliver's work.
VANISHING GIRLS is about two sisters, Dara and Nick. They used to be inseparable, even as they began to grow apart. But then Dara gets into a terrible accident that disfigures her face, their parents get divorced, and nothing is the same since.
Nick is trying to reach out to Dara to repair what used to be between them, and it almost seems to be working. Until Dara disappears. It might seem like a game, but there's another girl who disappeared recently too, named Madeline Snow, and Nick can't help but wonder if maybe the two disappearances are linked.
There are a lot of stories told in this mold, and half of them are told by Jessica Warman. VANISHING GIRLS, unfortunately, brings nothing new to the table, coming across instead as a rehashing of all the cliches that are typical to this genre. Troubled girls? Check. Small town secrets? Check. Illicit sex? Check. Boy issues? Check. It reads more like a shopping list of tropes than a book.
I did read VANISHING GIRLS to the end because I was invested enough in the mystery portion of the book that I wanted to see it through to the end, even though I had to do a lot of skimming to get there, but I wasn't overly pleased by the ending. It seemed...contrived. I know that's a terrible thing to say, since all books are contrived to some extent, but in this case, there was no foreshadowing or anything that made me sit up and say, "IT ALL MAKES SENSE!" It seemed abrupt.
There is a love story squeezed into this book, but it doesn't contribute much either. None of the characters had any sort of personality or anything. I almost have difficulty believing this is the same Lauren Oliver who wrote BEFORE I FALL, one of the handful of books that has made me cry.
I've seen this author around before, and for some reason (wishful dyslexia?) I always thought her name was Miyuki Maybe, which I thought was a delightfully quirky and existential name for a mystery author to have. Whodunnit? Whowroteit? But then I found out that her name was actually Miyabe, and I was sad.
Even though I tend to not like sweeping generalizations, one thing I have noticed about Japanese novels is that they often start out with the main character meeting a stranger who then impacts their lives. There is often such a sense of isolation in these books, and a feeling of disconnection--I'm not sure if this is because of the translations or a reflection of how the authors themselves feel in this society, but it is interesting and recurring.
Kosaka, the main character in this book, is a journalist for a mediocre periodical firm called The Arrow. One night in a bad storm he comes across the teenaged Shinji. As they are driving, they find an open hole in the street where a manhole cover has been removed. Shortly afterwards, an old man passes, looking for his missing grandson. Shinji goes pale--out of guilt, Kosaka thinks, until Shinji reveals to him that he is, in fact, a psychic and he has seen that the little boy is dead.
THE SLEEPING DRAGON is a reference to the sleeping psychic powers that are inside Shinji and another mysterious man named Naoya, and how, if treated recklessly, or if not channeled properly, they have the power to consume you or destroy you. It's an interesting premise, but wasn't really explored to its fullest potential. The main plot is Kosaka trying to figure out a) whether Shinji and Naoya really are psychic, or just delusional or conspiratorial, and b) who is sending him mysterious and threatening letters at work, and why.
I read the book to the end because I wanted to figure out what happened, but it was not a satisfying ending. Sometimes books are driven by character motivations, and things make sense in hindsight because of foreshadowing by the author. And other times, things happen, and you think, "Well, that was random. Did the author pull that out of their butt?" I am sorry to say that this was one of those latter instances. I put this book down feeling more puzzled and dissatisfied than anything else.
Miyuki Miyabe had some good ideas in this book, but I'm wondering if maybe she was trying to fuse together too many different concepts and whether this was why the book failed. I'd be willing to try a few more of her works to see if they agreed with me better, but this isn't one I would recommend.
Book #1 in this series is called THE STRANGER, and I liked it quite a bit. Even though this is a graphic-novel, it has a fighter anime flavor to it, with a royal fighting tournament comprised of both magic and combat that wouldn't be out of place in a fantasy rendition of The Hunger Games.
This book starts where the last one left off. Richard Aldana and Adrian Velba are in the championships of the tournament. They have a lot of rivals to deal with, and for some of the rivals, it's personal and they won't hesitate to cheat or use emotional manipulation in order to get what they want.
Adrian's mom and Richard finally do something about that sexual tension, and it ends up scarring Adrian for life. Although I have to say that they way they approached the little boy about it was quite sweet, and actually developed the storyline and their characters quite a bit. You don't often see adult characters explaining sex to a child in young adult books, especially not in graphic novels.
I finished this book in about twenty minutes. I think it's even better than the first in terms of what it sets out to accomplish, and the suspense is great. There's court intrigue, deception, and all sorts of complicated relationships that I'm hoping will play out in interesting ways (although Master Jensen seems to have disappeared in this one...what about his obsession with Adrian's mom?).
Is this another book trying to rip off the success of GONE GIRL?
Does it feature female characters acting in unconventional ways with an unreliable female narrator?
Does it have a twist that won't be revealed until the very end, cleverly tricking you into reading the whole thing regardless of whether you love it or hate it?
Is it a bad book?
...No, not at all, actually.
When she was a teenager, Tessa Cartwright was found in a field of black-eyed susans, lying on top of the bones of other girls. She was the only survivor of the Black-Eye Susan killer, the "lucky" one.
Somehow, she doesn't feel very lucky.
Now a middle-aged woman with a teenager of her own, Tessa is still haunted by the other Susans. She hears their voices sometimes, whispering. The voices have gotten louder because a lawyer has contacted her, hoping that she will be able to help: they believe the man they convicted for the killings, a black man named Terrell, was innocent.
But that would confirm what Tessa had feared all these years...that her killer is still out there. Waiting to finish what he started.
Tessa is an interesting protagonist. I like seeing characters who suffer from their traumas in realistic ways, and in addition to PTSD, Tessa at one point suffers from conversion disorder, which until now, I have never actually seen portrayed in fiction. So that was really neat.
The mystery of the killer is done well, and so was the twist. I didn't see it coming, anyway. I had lots of theories, but none of them were correct. The dual POV works well to reveal and conceal information, although if I do have one complaint about this it is that I felt that her killer and his actions were not really detailed enough for me to get a sense of how terrible he was. If the author had gone that extra mile in edge, this probably would have gotten a five-star rating.
BLACK-EYED SUSANS was a decent read, very much like Gillian Flynn in terms of style and tone. The author makes a lot of interesting references and writes pretty good flawed protagonists, so if you are a Flynn fan you can probably make the transition over to Heaberlin easily. I would read more by this author in a heartbeat. I hope she decides to stay in this genre for a while...
QUEEN OF THE TEARLING came out a few years ago. It had all this hype attached with its release, and there was a lot of excitement and speculation...until ARCs started making their way through the blogger community, and reviewers started going, "Dafuq?!" Even though I'm late--a few years late--to the cool kids' party, that was pretty much my reaction during the entire book.
Kelsea has been in hiding for nineteen with her two guardians. She is plain, bookish, and pretty much unremarkable except for a sapphire necklace and a mysterious scar. Guess what? It turns out she's the Queen! Not just any queen, but the long-lost heir to Tearling that people, good and bad, have been searching for all these years. And now it's time for her ascension.
Let's begin with Kelsea. The first thing you need to know about her is that she is very, very plain. The second thing you need to know about her is that she really likes books. That's it. That's all you need to know about Kelsea. But Kelsea thinks you are an idiot, because she will be constantly reminding you about these two things over the course of the book, in many pointless, and often excruciatingly uncomfortable ways.
For example, there is this character called the Fetch. I actually kind of liked his character, even though he's pretty stock as far as the ambiguously amoral but useful ally trope goes. Anyway, towards the beginning of the book he kidnaps Kelsea but then tells her that she doesn't need to worry about being raped because she's "too plain" for him. Something Kelsea finds disappointing. In fact, when meditating on her plainness later, this incident comes up several times--to her regret.
Later, Kelsea meets another woman her own age named Marguerite, her Uncle's ex-sex-slave. Marguerite is beautiful, but she tells Kelsea that beauty isn't all it's cracked up to be pretty much because it makes men want to rape you. Keslea thinks that Marguerite is just exaggerating (even though, hello, RAPEY UNCLE'S SEX SLAVE) because surely being beautiful would be better! At one point, she secretly wishes that her guards would sexually harass Marguerite after she catches them looking at her appreciatively because she wants an excuse to yell at them 'cause she's jelus.
Let's get to Kelsea's royal policies. This book has been billed as being like Game of Thrones. Well, if monarchy is a game, GoT would be chess. Queen of the Tearling would be Hungry Hungry Hippos. Kelsea isn't in the kingdom for a week before she starts turning everything on its head. She ends the slave trade that is supposedly the only thing keeping the peace between her kingdom and Mort, even though her army is totally unequipped for war or retaliation. She deposes her uncle as Regent, takes away his favorite slave girl, and humiliates him before all her guards. Oh, and then she starts fucking with the Church, and campaigning to steal all their books...because she wants them.
The world-building makes even less sense. At first, QUEEN OF THE TEARLING seems like a pretty stock medieval European fantasy setting. Which is not my favorite genre, because it's been done so, so much and all too often the characters have the depth of a D&D Dungeon Master's character portfolio. Less, even, because there's no knocking a good DM. But then...
Kelsea mentions pennies with a stately bearded man on them. Abraham Lincoln? You mean Abraham Lincoln? Surely not, no, this must be another bearded man-- And then she explicitly mentions America and England, as well as some other things like The Hobbit and The Brothers Grimm. This is not a medieval fantasy book, this is a post-apocalyptic dystopian that takes place in our future.
THIS IS THE FUTURE.
This just raises so many questions that I cannot. First off, how did we get from here to there? I'm guessing this is going to be answered in later stories but can we at least have a hint? All that we know is that there was something called The Crossing and Tearling was founded by some dude named William Tear who apparently didn't know shit about how politics or governing a people worked. Secondly, if this is a dystopian, why is there magic? Is it actually magic, or is it just another example of how backwards these people are? Is this an alternate universe? WHAT IS GOING ON? Britain and America were (fairly) forward thinking countries in their heydey so why the fuck are there "antisodomy squads" roaming around making sure nobody gets up to anything gay, and how did the church manage to wrest control again--especially when the country's founder was apparently an atheist? Where are all the books? And if there aren't any books, why can people still read? When Kelsea started lending her books out, she didn't need to teach the people she gave them to how to read, so why, if books are no longer common or even considered useful, why does this population still know how to read? Why are doctors so scarce? If doctors are scarce, why is it apparently not super uncommon for women to get cosmetic surgery? Do psychics exist in this world? If not, why did Kelsea start having prophetic dreams all of a sudden? Who the fuck is that guy who sucks the eyeballs out of children? How did the slave trade become the backbone of the Mort economy? What happened to the rest of the world--like China and Russia and India, for example. Are they watching us on their futuristic monitors and laughing at us for being the medieval fucktards that we are?
Now let's talk about the villain. She's an evil queen. Of course. She's been looking for Kelsea for nineteen years to keep her from reclaiming the throne. Of course. She failed. Of course. What you need to know about the queen is that she's probably a sorceress of some kind since she's old as hell but still looks young, and that she is evil. When she finds out one of her sex slaves snores, she orders his tongue and uvula cut out as punishment. To quote Electric Light Orchestra, Eeeevil woman. Ironically, she's one of the more interesting and conflicted characters in the book, as is Kelsea's Uncle Thomas. I would much rather read about them than fucking Kelsea over here.
Because there's a lot of double-standards. Kelsea does a lot of cruel and insensitive things. She humiliates her enemies. Enemies that she makes because she doesn't think about making allies. All she thinks about is her plainness and obtaining more books. You might think plainness would make her a more forgiving and empathetic person but you would be wrong. She envies beautiful women (while also wishing bad things would happen to them) and mocks older or ugly women for attempting to beautiful themselves. Pretty much all the female characters who aren't Kelsea in this book are painted as a) evil queens, b) victims, c) jealous hags/bitches.
And despite wanting to be beautiful, Kelsea seems to really hate women and femininity. She's described one point as being "mannish" simply because she walks like she knows where she's going. In the beginning of the book, she takes violent offense to the notion that she might at one point have played with dolls or worn dresses. There's a quote in this book saying that women scream at any kind of pain, but men scream only when they're being killed. Which begs the question: in a world that has not one, but two powerful queens, why is there so much gender stereotyping and misogyny?
And why does Kelsea buy into it? She has all those books. She ought to know that things should be--and can be--different. (I'm also wondering what those books were about. She mentions the Hobbit and the Brothers Grimm but nothing more modern. And these books mostly seem to serve as a crutch (a very weak crutch) to explain how Kelsea seems to know everything about things she ought to know absolutely nothing about--like doctors, and plastic surgeons, and recessive genes, and about a million other things.) Her guardians didn't think to give her a copy of Sun Tzu or The Prince?
I was wondering where the Hunger Games similarities would come in and it didn't take me long to figure that out. The slave trade is determined by a lottery (oh boy), and IIRC, the 'winner's' family is exempt from taking part in lotteries for a period of time. WHAT A GREAT PRIZE. You know, I think the Hunger Games wins on this one. Yeah, they were sending children to their deaths, but at least it was only a few dozen kids and not cages and cages of hundreds of babies, adults, and children who were going to get raped, tortured, have their eyeballs sucked out and then murdered, etc. Plus, entering got you food and the winners' families got a lifetime supply of food. So yeah, excuse me if I say, well, at least the HG people managed to make it look at least a little appealing.
Whenever I looked at my friends' page for QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, the schism was always what I noticed right away. 80% of my friends loathed, loathed, loathed this book, and 20% adored it, no questions asked. There was no middle ground. They all either loved it or hate it.
Now that I've read QUEEN OF THE TEARLING for myself, I'm planting my flag firmly in the "hated it" camp. I found the book very lazily written and plotted, too reliant on cliches and shoddy world building to make up for what proved to be a decidedly uninteresting and unoriginal storyline.
I was really shocked when I found out I was approved for this graphic-novel...DC Comics never approves me for anything! (They love me, they really love me...)
BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT is meant to accompany that new game that just came out. This is the prologue to it. The Joker has been killed by Batman and Arkham City is closed.
Unfortunately, a dead Joker is still a dangerous Joker. He's managed his affairs carefully, ensuring that Gotham will still encounter his numerous booby-traps, even posthumously.
Other bad guys in this book are Harley Quinn, the Penguin, Tweedle Dum and Dee, Bane (but no Poison Ivy!), and Croc.
BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT is pretty dark. A lot of the new Batman comics are really dark, and this one is no exception. It's not as morally troubling as The Dark Knight Rises, or as disturbing and unpleasant as Alan Moore's book, in which one of the female characters is raped, but it's still pretty brutal in parts.
My biggest issue with ARKHAM KNIGHT was that the storyline kept jumping around. At one point, Batman ends up in Germany? I also wasn't a fan of how the Joker was drawn in this book, and some of the typeface was really difficult to read, especially when the speech bubbles were neon colors.
This wasn't bad, but it wasn't the best superhero comic I've ever read either. It reads like what it is: a publicity attempt meant to shed interest on its accompanying product.
I just finished STEELHEART and it was amazing. When I realized my library had the sequel, as well as the bonus short story, I immediately put both on hold.
MITOSIS takes place immediately after the events of STEELHEART, so if you haven't read STEELHEART yet don't read this book or it will spoil all the twists for you.
David and The Reckoners (that sounds kind of like a band) are dealing with the consequences of their killing the Epics. Newcago is still very afraid, and struggling to survive. They want to teach the people they have nothing to fear, but such bravery is still a huge risk when another Epic could take control at any time.
The villain in MITOSIS is an Epic of the same name, who is capable of self-replication. He has heard that David is the one who murdered Steelheart and is convinced that it's a cover-up for a larger scheme. He wants to find out the truth...and then kill David.
Which will totally happen, unless David's crew can find out his weakness in time.
I'm giving this four stars because even though it was so fucking short, it did contribute to the storyline and had great suspense for what was essentially thriller. I wouldn't have purchased it myself, but I'm very happy I was able to read it for free courtesy of my lovely local library.
A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER will always be my favorite book by this author. It is the book that first introduced me to the woman who is now one of my favorite historical figures of all time: Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Nothing else can compete.
THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE is an interesting idea (that might be based off a true story?). Margaret Rose Kane has just come home early from a summer camp where she's been bullied by her fellow campers and (inadvertently) the camp director. She was rescued by her uncles, two Hungarian brothers who live together in a New York Suburb called Epiphany.
The uncles are eccentric. Alex is the glib, witty one and Morris is the grouchy one who is secretly a marshmallow. They kind of have an Ernie and Bert/Abbot and Costello type of relationship: one that's filled with tons of fighting and repartee, to the point where you might think that they genuinely hated each other if they didn't willingly spend so much time in the other's company.
One of their facets of eccentricity are three towers that they have built in their backyard out of found objects. The towers are about 45 years old, older than Margaret or her mother, and a point of fascination with Margaret. Unfortunately, they are also a point of contention with the local Home Owners' Association and the Historical Society, who think that the towers not only don't hold true to the historical accuracy of the "Old Town" atmosphere, but they are also dangerous and unsightly, and as a result, they are bringing down property values. Margaret decides that she is going to save the towers, but in order to do it she needs the help of a motley assortment of individuals.
THE OUTCASTS is a book with some pretty mature concepts considering that the narrator is only 12. You don't usually see middle grade books with such important messages that also have such a heavily adult cast (seriously--so many of the supporting cast in this book are adults). I did appreciate how this book went about showing how you can make a difference, and what some of the consequences of protests are (arrest, asshole demolition men/cops, nice cops, legal involvement etc.).
My biggest problem with this book was probably Margaret. She was overly precious and precocious and I just did not like her one bit. She was annoying, and rather than being impressed or inspired by her, I found myself becoming incredibly annoyed with her.
Also, despite a rather big cast, I felt Konigsburg only really scraped the surface of her characters. Some of them were so interesting, and I would have liked to have seen them get more air time.
When I was a kid, I would watch Pokemon every day after school. There was a time when I had pretty much all of the original episodes on VHS tape, and we watched several of them until they fell apart. Like other 90s kids, I was obsessed.
Even now, Pokemon is still something I remember with fond nostalgia, and continue to indulge in from time to time. I still have my Gameboy Color, and occasionally I'll play Yellow Version just so I can watch Pikachu follow me around all over Kanto as we fill up our Pokedex and triumph over evil Team Rocket. One of my ex-boyfriends, knowing my fondness for the franchise, bought me a Pikachu Pillowpet that continues to sleep on my bed to this day.
When I saw this graphic novel and its sequel for sale in a thrift shop, I couldn't resist. Even though it looked about twenty years too young for me, even though I'm not a fan of shounen style manga, I bought both and took them home with me.
And you know what? I'm really glad I did.
POKEMON ADVENTURES serves as a tie-in between the games and the TV show. For example, it's got the Pokemon fan club from the game, but also employs the "reluctant Pikachu" storyline from the TV show. Also, Ash is named "Red" and Gary is named "Blue." I think this particular manga is more loyal to the game, rather than the TV show, and it works surprisingly well in serialized form.
Ash is a young boy who catches and trains Pokemon. His starter is a Poliwhirl that he raised from a Poliwag--it evolved to save him from drowning when he was a small boy (I thought that was really sweet). After a collision with Team Rocket and a glimpsing of Mew in the nearby Viridian Forest, he goes to Professor Oak's lab in order to find out how to be a better trainer...
And that's how this story begins.
The way the Pokemon are drawn is incredibly cute. I love how expressive they were, and how each one had its own personality. Ash is also less of a douche in this book than he is in the show, and even though I didn't think it was possible, they made Misty even cooler--she's like a cross between a Disney Princess and Leela from Futurama: fancy dresses, fancy mansion, and vengefully kick-ass.
I was really surprised by the emotional depth in this book. The storyline moved really fast (almost rushing, to be honest) but the author and the artist still managed to give a sense of humanity (or Pokemanity) to all of the characters. There were some creepy moments, too. Zombie Pokemon. And yes, they are just as creepy as they sound. If that was in the TV show, I'd have nightmares. o_o
There are some creative licenses taken with this storyline that I'm not quite sure how I feel about...like what they did with Koga and Lt. Surge. But overall, I have to say that I really enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. This is a keeper--oh, and it's supposedly on Edelweiss now, too!
Two types of books consistently have the best cover art: vintage romance novels and Korean manhwa. One look at this cover and it was love at first sight. Seriously, look at those soft lines, those pastels, that gorgeous outfit. I would so frame this.
I didn't even care that this was book three in a series.
HISSING is kind of like a cross between PEACH GIRL and BOYS OVER FLOWERS--it's one of those shoujo dramas about bitchy, vengeful girls and alpha douchebags, with one hapless, innocent, "good" girl caught in the middle.
I knew this, going into the book. It's not my favorite trope--not unless a shit-ton of character development and wtfuckery drama goes into it (see Hana Yori Dango)--but I couldn't resist.
LOOK AT THAT COVER.
Resistance was futile from the start.
The alpha douchebag in question is a boy named Sun-Nam, which is an ironic name because it means "kindness" and "man." Of course, the heroine's name is ironic too because hers is "Da-Eh", which means "a lot" and "love."
Sun-Nam has issues. His father is dead and he feels like he's responsible for that: something his brothers (I think they're his brothers) do nothing to dissuade him from. Also his mother might possibly be crazy? Anyway, he has a thing for Da-Eh, but for whatever reason he's "dating" a girl named Ha-Ra who looks a lot like Da-Eh, but is her complete opposite personality-wise.
When she tries to initiate sex between them, Sun-Nam calls Ha-Ra a slut and a skank and tells her "you totally turn me off!" A few days later, he confesses his love to Da-Eh, and then suddenly they're going out? There's another weird blonde guy who also has a thing for Da-Eh, but gives off major creepster vibes (like Ryo, from Peach Girl). She also has a weird awk friend who likes her.
Oh, and Ha-Ra wants to get revenge against Da-Eh with her coven of friendos, possibly involving beatings and acts of gross humiliation that can only be stopped by male intervention.
I don't even know what to make of this. It felt very short. I think it was short, because the last twenty pages or so are actually a preview of another manhwa called FOREST OF GRAY CITY. I should also point out that the art inside the book isn't really anything like the art of the cover. It is much more simplistic, and the proportions of the characters are odd--freakishly long torsos with boxy shoulders on both the men and the women. Also, their hands are huge. o_o
Here's a picture to show what I mean. Look at those proportions.
HISSING is also offensive on multiple levels. Da-Eh calls someone retarded. Ha-Ra accuses Sun-Nam of being queer, since why else wouldn't he want to sleep with her? Sun-Nam calls Ha-Ra a slut and a skank, and he also says that Da-Eh has "chinky" eyes.
IT'S FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, Y'ALL.
I'm keeping this because of the pretty cover, and if I see other books in this series I'll probably buy them, because I am a sucker, but this certainly won't be topping any of my favorites lists.
Maybe if you like shoujo...although you'd be better off reading PEACH GIRL or HANA YORI DANGO.