Awakening – Monstress Vol. 1

29396738by Marjorie Liu (writer) & Sana Takeda (artist)
Graphic Novel
5 of 5 stars
This is a review of the first 6 issues of Monstress

When I finished this story I was incoherent for hours. It felt like I’d been waiting for this to be made for years without knowing it! I picked it up months ago and I have no idea how Janella was so calm after she read and asked if I’d gotten to it yet and I said, “Oh, I will soon!” (months later)

This is phenomenal and quite possibly my favorite read of 2016! Every page had me enthralled — the art is rich with detail and beauty, the story is dark and captivating, the characters come alive with every panel.

We meet the Arcanic Maika when she is nude and chained, about to be sold as a slave to humans–and this is not the first time. But we quickly learn something else is at work, and once she begins to orchestrate her escape there isn’t a moment to breathe until the last page!

Maika’s mysterious past comes to light, always raising more questions than answers, especially when it comes to the strange power lurking inside her. Sharp and aloof, she is unable to keep allies away from her. Whether that is her closest friend Tuya or Kippa, a fox Arcanic she rescues. There are wonderful twists and surprises within these pages, but the basic plot follows Maika Halfwolf as she tries to uncover her dead mother’s secrets and avenge her murder.

I definitely do not want to spoil this collection! Aside from intense world-building, plot, and pacing, the themes of war, power, racism, slavery, and what makes a monster hit you hard with unapologetic candor. Yet another bold move is a 95% female cast coupled with intersectionality that is hard to find in YA novels.

Reading this called to mind Mad Max: Fury Road–I honestly have never read anything like this that could have me tearing up, laughing, or sweating bullets at any given moment.

There are already several more issues out if you just can’t wait, and I would guess the next bound volume will be released summer 2017. I can’t recommend this enough!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Heartless is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb (writer) & Jim Lee (artist) – I haven’t read nearly enough graphic novels but I love the art in this one and the story intrigued me as well. All your DC favorites are here to deliver exactly what you’d hope for from a Batman comic.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Decidely more lighthearted than Monstress, this explores similar themes from a quirky perspective. Nimona is a shape-shifter who apprentices herself to villain Lord Blackheart. He quickly realizes there is more to her than a desire for villainy. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species – A YA novel that tackles a murder, rape culture, and sexism through the eyes of three senior students in a small town. See my review here.
  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Mia Corvere apprentices herself to the Red Church in hopes of becoming a skilled assassin that can avenge her family’s murder. See my review here.
  • Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith – This is the third installment in J.K. Rowling’s crime novel series and it’s by far the darkest. If you want a thriller mystery that makes you a bit uncomfortable, try this out. See my review here.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – This novella is one of my favorites. The unnamed narrator describes experiences from his childhood and realizes with increasing alarm that the strange and deadly things happening were not in his imagination as his family insisted. See my review here.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

2986865by Alison Goodman
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Book 1 of a duology

I am starved for YA stories featuring dragons and girls interacting with dragons in particular, so when I chanced upon this at the library I had to grab it. I was hoping it would have some similarities to my favorite novel, The Hero and the Crown, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a close comparison, I loved every twist and turn of this story! It’s Mulan meets Avatar the Last Airbender, and the combination is brilliant!

Eon is a crippled candidate in training with eleven other boys hoping to be chosen by the next ascendant dragon to become a Dragoneye apprentice. The twelve Dragoneyes and their apprentices control the twelve dragons of the zodiac, each with its own powers and virtues, each helping the others keep their world in balance with nature and one another. But Eon’s secret is that he is actually Eona – a teenage girl masquerading as a boy because she has the power to see the dragons, and becoming a Dragoneye would save her from impoverished slavery. In the ceremony she isn’t chosen by the Rat Dragon – she is chosen by the Mirror Dragon, the dragon that has been missing for over 500 years. With this auspicious rise in power comes the expectation that Eon will thwart the plans to seize control from the aging emperor, and assure Prince Kygo’s rightful rise to power – even if both of these men would kill her instantly upon discovering her true identity.

Although the novel is largely setup for the next book, Eon’s struggle with herself and the burden of responsibility to the kingdom as she navigates the royal court kept me enthralled from start to finish! The supporting characters are as layered and interesting Eon. Ryko, the eunuch bodyguard and Lady Dela, a transgender protocol instructor, both felt powerful enough to have separate stories of their own. The magic system and the world-building feel unique in a forest of western-based fantasy. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a royal court fantasy drama with action and dragons in the mix.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

** Note that this book is also available under various titles, including Eon, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and The Two Pearls of Wisdom. The titles vary based on publisher.

Similar reads:

  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – A richly detailed story about a half-dragon half-human woman drawn into the royal family’s struggle to keep the peace between the two cultures as the anniversary of their treaty approaches. See my review here.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – A bit the opposite of Eon in that Aerin is an outcast princess struggling for acceptance by slaying the dragons in her kingdom, but her personal journey is much the same. See my review here.
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – Alanna switches places with her twin brother so that he may study sorcery and she can become the knight she has always dreamed of being. Begins a bit middle-grade but the quartet is YA by the second book and the series as a whole is excellent. See my review here.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Alina struggles with accepting a power she didn’t know she had until the Darkling (the most powerful sorcerer in the land) plucks her from the obscurity of making maps for the army. See my review here.
  • Flight of the Dragon Kyn by Susan Fletcher – Kara feels a kinship to birds, but her ability to call them down from the sky is then exploited to call down dragons to kill them. Kara must find a way to free herself and the dragons before everything is destroyed.

Backlist Bonus: Graceling

3236307by Kristin Cashore
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – October 1, 2008

This has become a staple of my fantasy collection. Cashore’s style reminds me of Robin McKinley, it’s descriptive, almost lyrical, and the character development is subtle but intense. Katsa’s Grace (an enhanced ability, somewhat magical) is Killing, and she is forced to be the muscle behind her uncle’s throne. Secretly, she subverts his cruel and greedy orders, and tries to avoid killing at all costs. When a strange foreign prince encounters her on a mission, she becomes caught up in his quest to free his relatives from another king’s mysterious power – possibly a Grace that could doom them all.

Katsa ends up on a traditional quest in a world of strange powers, but Cashore makes this a fresh tale about a woman who fears her own power and refuses to settle for anything but finding her own place in the world. She doesn’t want marriage and children, she wants to be independent and choose her own destiny, away from her uncle and everyone else. It’s Po that makes her come to realize you can be independent and still care for someone else. Their slow-burn romance is beautifully told and only one arc in the web of adventure, politics, and saving a kingdom.

This is the first in a trilogy, with Fire being a prequel and Bitterblue a sequel to this one. Graceling is my favorite, but if you like this one check them all out.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Graceling is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman –  A richly detailed story about a half-dragon girl enlisted to help the prince solve a royal murder and keep the peace between dragons and humans as the anniversary of the treaty approaches. See my review here, and my review of the sequel, Shadow Scale, here.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel must use the limited magic she knows to save her father from being trapped in Death. But a necromancer is working to raise the most powerful Dead spirit against the kingdom, and she must accept her destiny as her father’s successor, or doom the world to destruction. See my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – A slower, lyrical story about a girl thrust into one of the most powerful magical roles in governing the land as upheaval grips her kingdom. She is the only one who believes the new master of the land can save them, but as a priest of Fire, his return to life among normal humans is unprecedented. This has touches of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and is one of my favorites. See my review here.

P.S. I Still Love You

20698530by Jenny Han
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Book 2 of a duology

I wasn’t especially impressed by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before but I am so glad I decided to read this sequel! Lara Jean was a bit too passive for my taste in the last book – even when she found out who sent out her private letters, she wasn’t even that mad about it. Her emotions felt muted, and the characters around her felt flat and muted too. Not so in this story!

Lara Jean and Peter are together for real, and as she navigates her first high school relationship she reminds everyone reading this what high school is like. So many firsts, so many social dangers and triumphs, and the feeling that everything you’re experiencing is vitally important but is also something you’re not likely to care about so much when you’re older. Lara Jean is both more introspective and takes a more active role, and her sisters and friends are more vivid as well. Everyone has grown and I enjoyed this story much more thanks to that.

I also enjoyed the more feminist take on relationships in this novel. In the previous one, I was frustrated that because Lara Jean’s best friend Chris dated a lot of guys and had already had sex, she was slut-shamed by everyone. Even Lara Jean doesn’t fully approve of her. This time around everything is presented more fairly, in a way that every girl needs to see. Women are in charge of their bodies, and what’s right for some people isn’t right for others. If a sexy picture or video of a couple goes up online, the guy is congratulated and the girl is shamed – and this is a double standard that needs to change.

This was a fun summer read and I recommend it for both high school students and anyone wanting a vibrant refresher on what it’s like to be 16.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, P.S. I Still Love You is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan – One crazy night in NYC with recently-single Nick and his “girlfriend for 5 minutes” Norah that he meets at his band’s gig. The two high school seniors race around the city looking for their favorite band’s secret show, but end up wondering if they’ve found love instead.
  • Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch – Lina’s mother dies of cancer, and she’s sent to Florence, Italy to fulfill her mother’s last wish: get to know the father she just found out about 2 weeks ago. Lina is grieving and angry, but when her father’s neighbor provides her mother’s journal about her time in Italy, Lina can’t help but wonder why her mother sent her there. Add charming neighbor boy Ren to the equation, and Lina finds herself getting to know her mother all over again–and maybe falling in love. See my review here.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Another tale of high school first love that is incredibly bittersweet and vividly captures all the ups and downs through the eyes of both Eleanor and Park. See my review here.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – A similar coming-of-age story with a college freshman experiencing first love as she’s on her own for the first time. Her twin sister Wren decided she wanted some space, and Cath is cast adrift to find herself before she sinks.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – The nostalgia is on every page of this introspective and humorous story of quiet high school freshman Charlie as he makes friends with seniors Sam and Patrick. See my review here.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – This classic novel contains one of the best-known and loved romances in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy can’t imagine a single thing they have in common–unless it’s their dislike. But circumstances change, and Elizabeth learns the danger of relying on first impressions. See my review here.

The Handmaid’s Tale

38447by Margaret Atwood
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, in order to complete my trifecta of totalitarian futures – the first two being 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. All three had different visions for how the government would seize control of our daily lives, and although I view this one as the least likely scenario, it had enough merit to encourage some good questions.

In a world where a woman’s only value is getting pregnant and she has no rights of her own, Offred guides us through her existence as a Handmaid, a mistress of sorts for men whose wives are sterile. She still remembers the time before, when she was independent. She had a family, a career, her own bank account and an education, but those memories are fading. Offred’s narration jumps between present and past tense, and occasionally she sees something that sparks a memory tangent.

The beginning was a bit slow, but as she reveals more about her world and how women were suppressed it becomes harder to put down. As a protagonist she’s passive for the most part, but since that’s her expected behavior this isn’t an annoyance like it can be in other genres. I enjoyed the ending, and of the three books I mentioned this is the easiest to read. It’s worthwhile, although in my opinion the previous books I mentioned have more realistic views, if that’s what intrigues you about this genre.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Handmaid’s Tale is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • 1984 by George Orwell – The quintessential novel about a totalitarian state. Eerily accurate, engrossing, depressing, and a must-read. Control of the common man through surveillance and fear of violent retribution.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – A more pleasant but just as disturbing version of the future under a totalitarian government. Control of the common man through pleasure and societal pressures.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – A YA take on the same concept. Control of the common man through lack of resources, knowledge, and fear of violent retribution. If you like this, the realm of YA dystopian novels is open to you, but be warned, this is one of the best. See my review here.

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