Category Archives: All Reviews

The Menagerie Trilogy by Rachel Vincent

Much like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautiful, fascinating, and timely commentary on gender and economic inequality and religiously-justified politics, Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie trilogy is a beautiful, fascinating, and timely commentary on xenophobia, “otherness,” and our tragic tendency to treat other people as sub-human out of fear, ignorance, and selfishness.

Titles: Menagerie, Spectacle, and Fury
Author: Rachel Vincent
Series: Menagerie Series
First Publish Date: September 29th, 2015, by Harlequin MIRA
Genre: Urban fantasy, dark fantasy
NarratorGabra Zackman
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description of MenagerieWhen Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions” — mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons, and kelpies — are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

In the world of Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie trilogy, cryptids have always existed—human/animal hybrids of myth and legend, creatures that look human but have inhuman abilities, etc. But it’s a horrible time for them. If they are outed and caught, they are ostracized from society, separated from their families, exploited and bred like beasts, and treated as deadly or evil creatures by humans.

The impetus for this treatment is an event that happened several years prior—a mass killing that occurred all across the globe, committed by creatures that were not human. Rage, fear, and ignorance spurred humans into tormenting all cryptids, believing that one form of cryptid was responsible for the killings.

Delilah Dawson has returned to her hometown after going to school for cryptid zoology in order to understand and care for the various cryptid creatures. Her boyfriends treats her to a trip to the carnival, where a menagerie of cryptids is on display. After watching the brutal treatment of a child werewolf by the menagerie staff, Delilah has an unexpected transformation—and gets labeled a cryptid herself.

This change in Delilah’s status is the real horror and appeal of the series. As a stand-in for the reader, Delilah—a perfectly normal human—suddenly becomes “other,” and the treatment she receives after that point is atrocious. It leads the reader to think, “What if that happened to me?” It reminds us that anything a group of people is allowed to do to others—such as tear children from parents and place them in animal cages—they can eventually do to us. It forces us to recognize the “frog in hot water” phenomenon that many people believe we are living through today.

Delilah, who has learned to view cryptids much the way a sympathetic vet or zoologist views animals, is now forced to see how little difference there is between them and herself. She comes to know them as individuals with the same concerns about their family and survival as she has. And because she had the privilege of a human upbringing and education, she is able to plot and scheme and fight for cryptid rights with more skill and righteous indignation than a cryptid without that privilege.

There are so many timely and relevant themes in this trilogy that it could be great fodder for a book club. At the same time, it is rich, beautiful, sorrowful, devastating, and empowering fantasy fiction and a joy to read. Stories like this one justify the theory that reading can help people be more empathetic, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent because they are “experiencing” events from a point of view other than their own. The audio version, narrated by Gabra Zackman, is fantastic. For me, hearing the characters’ voices really amps up my emotional connection to the story.

And did I mention the ending? Wow! It’s not a happy ending, but it’s not an unhappy ending, either. It’s clever, victorious, sad, and hopeful with a huge dollop of karma, which I adore. But it also leaves the reader with questions: What happens next? What impact does the final event have on the world? Will things get better for cryptids? Those questions go unanswered in the book, indicating that it is up to us how the future goes for everyone who is “other.” We readers have to be the ones to make that better future manifest in our own world.

The Menagerie trilogy is not popcorn fiction, but a significant commentary on the state of humanity in the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, and other great dystopian classics. But it’s also a beautiful, accessible, and highly-entertaining piece of fiction, one that will leave you with some deep thoughts and lots of feels. Five stars for each book.

Poison by Bridget Zinn

Poison is a cute, fast-paced story about a witty girl who tries to assassinate her best friend, the princess, and ends up missing. Now as a fugitive, she’ll have to figure out how to save the kingdom – while getting in a lot of trouble along the way.

Title: Poison
Author: Bridget Zinn
Publish Date:  March 12, 2013
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher’s Description:  Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.


Kat Mandu says…

Poison is a cute, fast-paced story about a witty girl who tries to assassinate her best friend, the princess, and ends up missing. Now as a fugitive, she’ll have to figure out how to save the kingdom – while getting in a lot of trouble along the way.

Kira is a potioner, which is basically an alchemist. She’s trained under the best and has an entire arsenal of knowledge, explosives, and poisons at her disposal. Plus, she’s slightly a witch, blessed with the power of sight. When she sees her best friend and princess of the kingdom in a vision, standing over a shattered city of ash, Kira knows she’s got to stop the vision from happening, even if it means killing her best friend.

But she missed her target and now she’s on the run from the law. She knows that if she just finds the real princess, and kills her, the horrible vision she saw won’t come to pass. So she buys a pig that can track down the real princess. But along the way she discovers a handsome, witty guy with a hound dog, and albeit she’s determined not to care, she begins to have feelings for.

To sum things up without spoiling too much, she manages to best the fake princess, put the real bad guy in jail, and live happily ever after.

For me, this was a fun, quick read. Interesting world building, fun characters. Something that had drama, but not tragedy. I picked this up because it looked interesting and quirky. It was, and it’s shame the author is no longer around to enjoy the spoils of accomplishment and adoring fans.

However, as much as it pains me to say it, it just didn’t hold my attention. I found myself starting and stopping too much…. and even worse, I found myself missing that edge of danger and drama that I tend to stray to. This had a lot of adventure, a lot of intrigue. But didn’t have the suspense I was hoping for. I just couldn’t get into it as much as I wanted to.

That being said, this is a wonderfully crafted story. Just perhaps not for me, or perhaps it’s something I’ll read again when I’m looking for something whimsical and fun.
 

 

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Little by Edward Carey

A mix of very quirky characters and a superbly innocent voice make Little an intriguing look at a famous, yet little-known, historical figure.

Title: Little
Author: Edward Carey
Publish Date: October 23rd, 2018 by Riverhead Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionThe wry, macabre, unforgettable tale of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into the legendary Madame Tussaud.

In 1761, a tiny, odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors a princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and . . . at the wax museum, heads are what they do.

In the tradition of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Edward Carey’s Little is a darkly endearing cavalcade of a novel–a story of art, class, determination, and how we hold on to what we love.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

A while ago, Agent Annie suggested I might like the book Little, a fictional-yet-apparently-accurate-in-facts history of Madame Tussaud, of wax museum fame. Her recommendation was spot on. Little, particularly the audio version, is spectacular!

We meet Marie, who will eventually become Madame Tussaud, as a small child in Switzerland whose family is struggling after her father sustains a serious injury in the military. After her father’s death, her mother becomes housekeeper to a professor and then dies, leaving Marie to be buffeted on the winds of fate for the majority of her remaining life.

There are a couple of things I find fascinating about how this story is written. First, the tone of the story is so quirky-gothic. It feels similar to, though weightier than, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Addams Family, or the card game Gloom. Every character has some eccentric, quirky feature, such as the professor who is in love with bones, the Paris historian who never takes off his shoes, Marie’s childhood friend who comes to believe he is a dresser’s dummy, or the street urchin who behaves like the stray dogs who raised him. The eccentricities of each character are fascinating and the quirky tone of the story is very compelling, assuming quirky and dark is your thing. From a historical perspective, this tone also does a great job of characterizing the experience of the common citizen caught up in the craziness of the French Revolution.

Second, Marie’s voice, which we first hear as a child, retains that same child-like, innocent quality for the whole book. Not only her “voice,” as in a writing style, but also her literal voice, provided by narrator Jayne Entwistle, is absolutely perfect for the character and tone of the book. Particularly toward the end of the book, the reader witnesses Marie mature into an adult in terms of her actions and decisions, but her “voice” continues to be that of an innocent child, caught up in the machinations of fate, war, and people who have more power than she does.

This is a book I will listen to again, probably more than once. There is a lot to digest in terms of history and the way the writing style is both fun and yet layered to communicate the dynamics of power and absurdity of war and politics. It’s a brilliant piece of work, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Red Hood and the Outlaws, Volume 4 by James Tynion IV

Arsenal and Starfire return to save their friend Jason (Red Hood) from erasing his memories and forgetting who he is – at the worst possible time.

Title: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Volume 4: League of Assasins
Author:  James Tynion IV (Writer), Julius M. Gopez (Illustrations), Ray McCarthy (Illustrator)
Publish Date:  June 17, 2014
Genre: Comic/Graphic Novel

Publisher’s Description:  A new era begins for Red Hood and the Outlaws!
Following the Joker’s horrifying attack on the Bat-family, Jason Todd finds himself lost in his own past. Kori and Arsenal set out on a treacherous journey to the far reaches of the globe to rescue him, but when they come face to face with the All Caste, Hugo Strange, and the League of Assassins, the Outlaws might reach their breaking point.

 

 

 

 


Kat Mandu says…

Arsenal and Starfire return to save their friend Jason (Red Hood) from erasing his memories and forgetting who he is – at the worst possible time.

At the end of Death of the Family, Jason is fed up with the demons in his head telling him what he can and can’t be. He wants to forget all the wrong he’s done, all the people he’s hurt. He doesn’t want to feel anymore pain himself. So he rids himself of his memories just as Starfire and Arsenal show up to try to stop him.

But they’re not the only ones who are trying to get the Red Hood. The League of Assassins are searching for Jason, because with their leader vanished, someone needs to step in and if they’re able to show Jason the darkness in his heart, he’ll be able to lead them into a very terrifying victory against the Al Caste, which is the formidable group that trained Jason in the first place.

Overall, this really focuses on friendship as an arc. Arsenal and Starfire have their first lovers’ quarrel. Starfire hides that she can so easily forget someone (like her relationship with Nightwing, the original Robin) and Arsenal, plagued by feelings of disappointment and anger, sinks in lower by choosing the wrong side in a fight, despite Starfire’s protests. And poor Jason, without his memory, is targeted by assassins across the globe, left slightly defenseless without the memory of his training and history.

But *spoiler alert* Arsenal manages to get Jason back in the groove by being a friend, and in the end Jason ends up even more powerful than how he started. Plus he has a glowing blade, so that’s nice. Now the three are back together and facing off against a threat poor Arsenal didn’t see coming. I imagine it’ll be quite the fight, so I’m eager to see what happens in the next one.

To wrap up the fourth installment though, I’ll admit again that as much as I enjoy the story, sometimes it is just hard to follow. I enjoy comic books a lot, the artwork is always done so beautifully. But sometimes it’s just easier for me to read regular books. I tend to understand their flow and detailed descriptions better. And I catch on faster. But still, I give it a four.

Our reviews in this series…

 

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Red Hood and the Outlaws, Volume 3 by Scott Lobdell

Death of the Family is quick to the punches as the Joker returns to set fire to Gotham and the Bat Family legacy.

Title: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Volume 3: Death of the Family
Author: Scott Lobdell (Writer), Fabian Nicieza (Writer), Scott Snyder (Goodreads Author) (Writer), Timothy Green II (Illustrator), Pasqual Ferry (Illustrator), Brett Booth (Illustrator), Ig Guara (Illustrator), Wayne Faucher (Illustrator), Norm Rapmund (Illustrator), Greg Capullo (Illustrator), Jonathan Glapion (Illustrator), Ardian Syaf (Illustrator), Robson Rocha (Illustrator), Ken Lashley (Illustrator), Julio Ferreira (Illustrator), Jaime Mendoza (Illustrator), Le Beau L. Underwood (Illustrator), Tyler Kirkham (Illustrator)
Series: Red Hood and the Outlaws #3
Publish Date:  December 3, 2013
Genre: Comic/Graphic Novel

Publisher’s Description:  As if Batman’s former sidekick Jason Todd, now known as the Red Hood, didn’t have enough problems leading the team of outlaws such as Arsenal and Starfire, now his “estranged” brother Red Robin is knocking on his door because The Night of Owls is here! With Batman in dire need of help, will Red Hood answer the call?

And when Jason and the team find out that Starfire is one of the most feared (and dangerous) commanders in all of space, the team will find their adventures taken to the stars and beyond to help decide the fate of the throne of Tamaran. Witness the galactic struggle between Starfire and her sister Blackfire as Red Hood and the Outlaws are caught in the middle of an interstellar war!


Kat Mandu says…

Death of the Family is quick to the punches as the Joker returns to set fire to Gotham and the Bat Family legacy. Jason Todd aka Red Hood is caught in the crossfire again between his former mentor and his own psychotic murderer.

And although Jason is one of the Joker’s favorite creations, and therefore one he enjoys torturing the most, Jason finds he’s not the only chew toy this time around. The Joker has kidnapped all the former and current Robins, plus Batgirl. And Batman! Because it’s his birthday and the Joker gives no shits.

The Joker has a sick game for Batman planned – and he’ll stop at nothing to win. Which means the Bat Family have to team up and face down their demons to turn the tables… and make it out alive.

Intermingled with this story is the perspective of both Starfire and Arsenal as they hop into the fight in an attempt to save their best friend. They team up with the Teen Titans to help stop the spread of The Joker’s madness within Gotham and save a lot of people along the way.

What I like: the intensity of this story arc is phenomenal. One trap laid after another. Suspenseful and engaging. Red Hood is my favorite DC character and he continues to be full of surprises. I’m very eager to see where this goes in the fourth installment.

Arsenal and Starfire are the best, with fierce friendship skills and awesome one liners.

What I didn’t like: It’s one thing to be able to immerse yourself into a comic book world. But the Death of the Family arc spans about twelve different stories, just told by several different characters. So it’s hard to jump into the series and still understand everything that’s going on. I found this book to be jumpy and choppy, with unnecessary fillers.

And sadly, as much as I adore Starfire and Arsenal for being goofy and formidable, their story arc distracts from the story too much, only adding to the chaos. This comic could have done with a bit more editing to help with the flow.

Overall though, it’s an enjoyable read.

Our reviews in this series…

 

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