Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud was published in 2009 by Hyperion.

Halli Sveinsson has grown up in the House of Svein, hearing the legends of the heroes as all his forefathers did. Theirs is a peaceful society, where the violence of the past has been outlawed and disputes are settled by the Council. But young Halli has never quite seemed to fit in with the others. For starters, he is neither handsome nor tall, like his siblings. He’s stumpy and swarthy, with a quick mind and an aptitude for getting into trouble. Bored with everyday chores and sheepherding, he can’t help playing practical jokes on everyone, from Eyjolf, the old servant, to his brother and sister. But when he plays a trick on Ragnar of the House of Hakon, he goes too far, setting in motion a chain of events that will forever alter his destiny. Because of it, Halli will have to leave home and go on a hero’s quest. Along the way, he will encounter highway robbers, terrifying monsters, and a girl who may be as fearless as he is. In the end he will discover the truth about the legends, his family, and himself.

Rating: 2/5

In between his Bartimaeus trilogy and his Lockwood & Co. series, Stroud wrote this little Norse fantasy. Heroes of the Valley is, unfortunately, not a good representation of Stroud as an author, in my opinion. It’s not particularly funny, the main character is unlikeable for a good three quarters of the book, and the ending reveal is so random and strange that it falls flat on its face.

Halli is probably one of the most aggravating protagonists to read because he’s selfish, oafish, and unlikeable up to about the culmination of the plot, which happens close to the end of the book. Then he becomes fairly awesome, but it’s a sudden change, one that you can accept because of what he’s been through but still squint sideways at and wonder how, exactly, he changed so suddenly. I did like Aud, though. I don’t usually like female characters like her, but Aud was great.

Reading Heroes of the Valley after reading something like The Screaming Staircase is disappointing. It’s disappointing because I know Stroud is a better author than what this book shows. Heroes of the Valley is so generic, so absent of any of Stroud’s usual plot tricks and characterization that it almost feels as if it was written by a completely different person. To be honest, if this was the first book of Stroud’s I had picked up, I likely would not have picked up anything else of his. I’d recommend Stroud’s other works—but not this. There are better books to read.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death, rude humor.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Are there roads beyond the cairns?”

The old woman blinked. “Roads? Whatever do you mean?”

“Old ones that the settlers took. To get to this valley in the days before Svein. To other valleys, other people.”

Slowly, bemusedly, she shook her head. ‘If there were trails they will be lost. The settlement was long ago. Besides, there are no other valleys, no other people.”

“How do you know that?”

“How can there be roads, where the Trows are? They devour all who go there.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2kR5EGr

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn was published in 2004 by Viking.

Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep them to herself. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper—a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, agrees to take the foundling. She names him Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow in to teenagers, they must come to terms with who they are—and who they may be.

Rating: 5/5

I was not expecting to be so caught up in The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter as I was while reading. Looking at the cover, I thought it looked interesting but might ultimately end up being contrived or disappointing or any other number of things to make it less than appealing to me. Starting the first chapter, I thought it seemed interesting but might end up becoming a trudge.

And then I became completely enthralled.

I’m not even sure what it was. Something about the characters, the world, and the conflict caught me up. I had a hard time putting the book down; not because it’s particularly gripping, but because I wanted to know what happened next. I was fascinated by the “magic” of the book, by the Safe-Keepers, the Truth-Tellers, and the Dream-Makers. I was struck by the tight bonds between the characters and the way those bonds shone through in their gatherings together. And I was intrigued by the mystery of the book, of the question of fathers and mothers and familial ties.

Of course, I guessed correctly halfway through the book, if only because I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if this turned out to be true?” and lo and behold, I turned out to be right. It was not a surprising reveal, but it was a satisfying one, and there was another reveal that I did not guess that fulfilled the “shock factor” (if also the “okay, I think that’s stretching it a little bit” factor).

The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter was neither a trudge nor a disappointment. I ate up every word, even after I had figured most of the plot out, and I’m glad that a book that at first glanced seemed like another poor fantasy turned out to be so appealing to me. I like it when books surprise me. I hope Shinn’s novels continue to do so.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some dark secrets are told in the book. Beware of hints and tellings of murder, infidelity, abortion and incest.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Fiona gave him a sharp glance, then took the whistle from his hand. Putting her mouth against the blowhole and her fingers on the openings of the pipe, she breathed in.

But no sound came out.

She tried again and again, each time blowing harder, but the whistle would issue no music. “I don’t understand,” she said at last. “Why doesn’t it work? Is it broken?”

Thomas shook his head. He was still standing with his hand against the trunk of the tree, watching her with his shadowed eyes. “Because a kirrenberry tree won’t make a sound,” he said. “You can cut its branches to make two sticks that you hit together along with the beat in a reel—but they make no sound. Hit it with an ax and the tree yields up no ringing noise. Fell it in the forest, and you will not hear it toppling to the ground. A whistle makes no music. Birds who land in its branches forget their own songs.”

Now she was frowning. “That makes no sense.”

He nodded. “That’s why the kirrenberry tree is planted in front of the house of every Safe-Keeper in every village from her to the Cormeon Sea. Because a kirrenberry tree signifies silence.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2lupq7U

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to Six of Crows.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend to Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Rating: 4/5

I went into Crooked Kingdom knowing something big happens at the end, since people were screaming in Goodreads reviews about it, and I also had a fairly good idea about what that something bad would be. But before we talk about that, let me talk about my overall thoughts of the book.

I was pretty impressed with Bardugo in the Grisha trilogy, but she has clearly improved since then. Her writing is better, the plot is better, the characterization is hugely improved (except for one character, but I’ll get to that) and I thoroughly enjoyed this duology. Ruin and Rising let me down in the end, but Crooked Kingdom did not. My favorite moment of this book was the unexpected, small plot reveal made right at the end of the book, where I said “What?” out loud and then giggled in delight. I love authors who can so deftly weave a complex plot right under your nose and leave things hidden until the very end.

That being said, let’s move on to that Something Big that devastated most everyone who read the book—at least according to Goodreads. To be honest, I don’t know if the knowledge that something was going to happen ruined the moment for me, or if I would have felt as ambivalent about it even without knowing. And now I’m going to mention spoilers, so beware.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

Frankly, Matthias’s death didn’t affect me all that much because Matthias was probably my least favorite character. He was probably the blandest, most boring character of the bunch—and I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but as I said about the first book, Nina/Matthias was never my cup of tea.

Also, looking back, his death was incredibly telegraphed—there’s only so much “we’re going to be awesome and I’m going to change the minds of my people and everything will be roses and daisies” talk that can happen before you start thinking “this person is totally not going to fulfill this, probably because he’s going to die.” And Matthias also made the most sense as to which character would die; Kaz and Inej are too important and Bardugo probably would never dare to kill off either Jesper or Wylan, so it made sense that either Nina or Matthias would die. And since Nina gets a new power to struggle over, that left Matthias.  So, I’m inclined to think his death would not have surprised me even if I hadn’t been spoiled.

Bland Matthias aside, I really did enjoy Crooked Kingdom. It wasn’t quite as heist-centric as Six of Crows, but there was still a great capers plot and enough compelling and surprising twists to satisfy and surprise until the very end. Bardugo has definitely improved since the Grisha trilogy, and I would have to say that this duology is the stronger of the two series.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Homosexuality, violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“This is good for us,” said Kaz. “The Shu and the Fjerdans don’t know where to start looking for Kuwei, and all those diplos making trouble at the Stadhall are going to create some nice noise to distract Van Eck.”

“What happened at Smeet’s office?” Nina asked. “Did you find out where Van Eck is keeping her?”

“I have a pretty good idea. We strike tomorrow at midnight.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2jGJHXF

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2015 by Henry Holt.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone….A convict with a thirst for revenge; a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes…Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Rating: 4/5

Six of Crows is a little bit like Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Bardugo’s Grisha universe and some romance mixed in. It’s not necessary to have read Shadow and Bone or the other two books before reading this one, but they do help to fill in some of the gaps in the worldbuilding and some of the information about Ravka in this book is easier to understand and grasp the significance of if you’ve read the Grisha trilogy.

I loved the action and the complexity of Six of Crows, though it did get a bit tiresome at the end when Bardugo pulls the “here’s what a character did but oh, wait, you don’t know the full story and the ingenious thing they just pulled off until a little bit later.” I do like a limited narrator, so it was only the repetitiveness that grated at me a little, not the concept itself. The ending of the plot was a little obvious, but the reveals were good and even the parts that were obvious were gripping and suspenseful.

I do wish the romance would have been a little bit better, and I say that knowing that many people (according to reviews on Goodreads) loved it. I felt that it was a little predictable (six characters=an obvious three pairs of couples) and though the fan-favorite couple seems to be Nina and Matthias, I must admit that theirs was the most cliché, overused romance in the book, in my opinion. I’ve read maybe thirty different variants of the “I hate her but I love her” romance in various young adult novels. I much preferred the romance of Kaz and Inej, which is, if not less overused, at least less obvious about it.

I really enjoyed Six of Crows, flaws of predictability in romance and in some aspects of the plot aside, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store for Kaz and his crew. Maybe an appearance by another character from the Grisha trilogy? One can only hope!

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Twenty million kruge. What kind of job would this be? Kaz didn’t know anything about espionage or government squabbles, but why should stealing Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court be any different form liberating valuables from a mercher’s safe? The most well-protected safe in the world, he reminded himself. He’d need a very specialized team, a desperate team that wouldn’t balk at the real possibility that they’d never come back from this job.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2iq7mhA

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, was published in 2015 by HarperCollins.

Mare Barrow’s World is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but a twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers an ability she didn’t know she had. Except…her blood is Red. To his this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince and Mare against her own heart.

Rating: 1/5

I had no clue what this book was about before I started reading it, but it very quickly became apparent to me that Red Queen was very akin to The Selection. I don’t understand what it is with authors wanting their future queens of their fantasy world to compete for the prince. At least Aveyard explains it slightly better than Cass did.

Red Queen, besides its Selection-esque world, relies very heavily on love triangles and the overused, boring “the king of the country is corrupt and abuses a part of the population because they’re different/poor/whatever” plot archetype. Seriously, I am sick of reading books about revolutions and overthrowing the monarchy, especially when it’s combined with love triangles, a clueless protagonist, and hard-to-swallow plot twists. At least the ending twist was good, though I saw it coming a mile away.

Also, the author tried so hard to get us to buy the love triangle of Mare, Cal and Kilorn (or possibly Mare, Cal and Maven, or possibly Mare, Maven and Kilorn), but since Cal is described as both a compassionate ruler and an emotionless monster, and Kilorn is barely in the picture at all and until Mare mentions something about wanting children I wouldn’t have believed they were anything more than friends, it falls way flat. None of the characters were interesting except Maven, and I might have found Mare interesting if she was less clueless and if she wasn’t so obviously a Special Protagonist who all the girls hate and all the boys like.

I actually finished it, which is an accomplishment since I considered stopping multiple times, but I have zero interest in getting the next book. I learned my lesson with The Selection. I’m not going through all that nonsense again.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“What Father is trying to say is htat she represents an opportunity for us,” Cal says, cutting in to explain. Unlike his brother, Cal’s voice is strong and authoritative. It’s the voice of a king. “If the Reds see her, a Silver by blood but Red by nature, raised up with us, they can be placated. It’s like an old fairy tale, a commoner becoming the princess. She’s their champion. They can look to her instead of terrorists.” And then, softer, but more important than anything else: “She’s a distraction.”

But this isn’t a fairy tale, or even a dream. This is a nightmare. I’m being locked away for the rest of my life, forced into being someone else. Into being one of them. A puppet. A show to keep people happy, quiet, and trampled.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ip1dhM

Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Wildwood Dancing.

For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult. But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret. Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her.

Rating: 3/5

Cybele’s Secret is not as strong or as beautiful as Wildwood Dancing, but I enjoyed it anyway, especially towards the end with the traverse through the cave solving riddles a la Indiana Jones. Paula is a great bookish, scholarly main character, and if the writing is a little stilted in places, that can easily be explained as Marillier capturing the character of Paula through the narration.

Cybele’s Secret is about as obvious as Wildwood Dancing was (so, very obvious), and I knew who the main villain was the second s/he appeared. Everything was just slightly too convenient and I waited about half of the book for the other shoe to drop until, finally, it did, just as I had predicted. The villain was also a little one-note and aloof, so that was a little disappointing, but at least by the time the villain was revealed I was too invested in the characters and the story to grumble much.

There’s also a love triangle, but to be honest, the third side of the triangle is so faint that it’s not really a love triangle at all. It’s more of a “there’s two men during Paula’s adventure that she can potentially hook up with so so we’ll call it a love triangle,” but Paula doesn’t waver between the two of them as with other love triangles. It’s very clear who Paula will end up marrying, and if the angst and heartache at the end is slightly contrived, the reunion between the two is still very sweet and touching.

I did prefer Wildwood Dancing, but Cybele’s Secret has its moments. The quests and riddles in the cave, the descriptions of Istanbul that make it come alive, and Paula’s sensible character all come together to make the book an enjoyable read, if one with an obvious villain and plot.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

A fragment caught my eye. I lifted it out with extreme care, for it was ancient and fragile. The script was ornate and regular. I guessed the language was Persian, for one or two such pieces had passed through Father’s hands over the years, and I recognized the style of decoration: tiny, vivid illustrations and elaborate hand-drawn borders full of scrolls and curlicues. The pictures were indeed strange. It was not clear whether the figures in them were of men, women, or animals. They reminded me vividly of the Other Kingdom, the fairy realm my sisters and I had visited every full moon through the years of my childhood. While my sisters were dancing, I had spent the better part of those nights in company with a group of most unusual scholars, and they had taught me to look beyond the obvious. Eithers these were images of just such a magical place, or they were heavy in symbolism. I could see a warrior with the head of a dog, a cat in a hooded cloak, a blindfolded women with a wolf, someone swinging on a rope…

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2fR0GEC

In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

In the Shadow of the Lamp, by Susanne Dunlap, was published in 2011 by Bloomsbury.

Rating: 2/5

It’s 1854, and Molly would give anything to change her circumstances as a lowly servant in a posh London house. So when she hears of an opportunity to join Florence Nightingale and her nurses in the Crimea, the promise of a new start—and perhaps even adventure—is too tempting to pass up. The work is grueling, the hospital conditions are deplorable, and Miss Nightingale proves to be a demanding leader. But before long, tending to sick and wounded British solders becomes more than just a mission of mercy; it becomes a mission of the heart when Molly finds that she’s falling in love with not one, but two young men. With the battle raging ever nearer, one of the men will fall victim to the great guns. Will it be the dashing young doctor who sees molly as more than just one of Nightingale’s nurses or the foot soldier who has left everything behind and joined the army to be near to her?

I should have known from the summary that In the Shadow of the Lamp would be a rough ride. It doesn’t even try to hide the love triangle romance. And it’s the worst kind of love triangle, with the unoriginal “Old Friend vs. Exciting Newcomer” (where 90% of the time the Old Friend wins) and with the protagonist thinking how much she loves her Old Friend, then when she meets the Newcomer is convinced that her Old Friend is just a friend and that she really loves the Newcomer, and then realizes at the end that the Old Friend was the one she loved the whole time, really.

And most of the time for these sorts of love triangles I always root for the Newcomer to win because they almost never do. They turn out to be cads and/or die.

So, yes, I was very unhappy with the love triangle. But the historical aspect of the novel was actually quite good. I liked the portrayal of Florence Nightingale and the realization the novel gives as to how profoundly she affected nursing during the Crimean War. And the bits on the actual nursing were good, too.

The one thing I didn’t understand was why Dunlap decided to throw in some sort of odd mysticism/fantastic element to the whole nursing thing. Was it just to stay true to the people who were present during the war or what? The whole “healing hands” thing was weird from start to finish. And it also made Maggie one of those protagonists who a.) everybody ends up liking and b.) has some sort of special insight into a topic that she beforehand knew nothing about. And her waffling between Will and Doctor Maclean was annoying, especially since I didn’t buy her romance with Will one bit.

In the Shadow of the Lamp is decent historical fiction, but has a terrible love triangle romance and the protagonist has too many flaws in terms of characterization. I liked the look at the Crimean War, but I could have done without everything else attached.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“These are the men who were just admitted last night,” Dr. Menzies said.

As my eyes became accustomed to the half light, I could make out shapes writhing on the floor. “Shapes” was all I could think to call them. Human bodies so mixed together and covered with blood and gore it seemed I was looking at a single creature.

“The wards are above. If you’ll follow me.”

We picked our way gingerly through the men on the floor to a staircase. Maybe upstairs in a proper ward there would be more order. My hopes didn’t last long. I heard Miss Nightingale exclaim before I reached the top of the staircase, “But there are no beds! And the linens are filthy. The stink is abominable. What is that surgeon over there doing?”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2fhB7Nn

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2016 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Hollow Boy.

After leaving Lockwood & Co. four months ago, Lucy has become a freelance operative, hiring herself out to psychic investigation agencies that value her ever-improving skills in locating Sources and shutting down Visitors. Her new life of independence, complete with her own studio apartment, would be fine if it weren’t’ for having to work with incompetent agents and answer to meddling supervisors. And it does sometimes get lonely, even though she has the skull in the jar to annoy her with his leers and sarcastic jibes. One day Lucy receives a surprise visit from Lockwood, who tells her he needs a good listener for a tough assignment. Penelope Fittes, the leader of the giant Fittes Agency, wants them—and only them—to locate and remove the Source for the ghost of a legendary cannibal. Throughout this very dangerous undertaking, tensions remain high between Lucy and her former colleagues. What will it take to reunite the team?

Rating: 4/5

I’ve enjoyed each book in the Lockwood & Co. series more and more, and I ate up The Creeping Shadow. Creepy ghosts (seriously, the cannibal one is the creepiest yet), intriguing developments, and cute awkwardness between Lucy and Lockwood led up to an ending that I can say I truly did not see coming—and took the series in a whole new direction for the grand finale fifth book.

I said it in The Hollow Boy and I’ll say it again here: adding Holly to the picture and making Lucy leave Lockwood & Co. was truly a good thing for the series, which felt a little stagnant to me after the second book. I was ambivalent about Lucy in the first two books, grew to like her in the third, and now am vehemently behind her in the fourth. And her camaraderie with the skull (who I’ve found annoying in the past) works, so that her going after it made complete sense character-wise.

The plot revelations in this book were good, too—and reminded me strongly of Stranger Things, as any book with other dimensions will now do—and although I knew who the villain would be based on what happened in the third book, I was not expecting the Big Reveal at the end—and it was a fantastic whammy of an ending, too.

The supernatural/horror genre really is not my cup of tea, so it’s a testament to just how good Stroud is that I’m enjoying Lockwood & Co., in all of its spooky element, so thoroughly. I can’t wait for what the last book will reveal for these characters that I’ve grown to love.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)

He was here! Why was he here? Excitement and incredulity kept smashing together, like waves colliding at a jetty. There was so much noise going on in my mind that the first priority—making small talk—was a bit of a problem.

“How’s business with Lockwood and Co.?” I asked over my shoulder. “I mean, I see you in the papers all the time. Not that I’m looking for you, obviously. I just see stuff. But you seem to be doing okay, as far as I can gather. When I think about it. Which is rare. Do you take sugar now?”

He was staring at the clutter on my floor, blank-eyed, as if lost in thought. “It’s only been a few months, Luce. I haven’t suddenly started taking sugar in my tea…” Then he brightened, nudging the ghost-jar with the side of his shoe. “Hey, how’s our friend here doing?”

“The skull? Oh, it helps me out from time to time. Hardly talk to it, really…” To my annoyance, I noticed a stirring in the substance that filled the jar, implying a sudden awakening of the ghost. That was the last thing I wanted right now.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ffJ6ym

Starglass by Phoebe North

Starglass, by Phoebe North, was published in 2013 by Simon & Schuster.

Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a boring job and living with a grieving father who only notices her enough to yell, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she’s got. But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain’s guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath the Asherah’s idyllic surface. As she’s drawn into a secret rebellion that aims to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares about most. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the choice of a lifetime—one that will shape the fate of her people.

Rating: 1/5

I really liked Starglass at first; I’m not a fan of science fiction but I do like “soft” SF if it’s written well—and Starglass is. I was intrigued by the concept of a Jewish community on a ship (and luckily North added the information that more than the Asherah were sent out; that tons of cultures and groups and communities sent out their own ships) and although the Judaism is really mangled, it makes sense that it would be—not only does the journals of one of the first travelers hint that the ship was, in the beginning, only surface Judaism, but 500 years with different generations, different commanders, etc. would be enough to distort some aspects of it. Yet…I don’t know. I’m still dissatisfied with its representation.

However, my uneasiness with the representation of Judaism is not the biggest issue with Starglass that I had. My main problem was with the main character herself. Terra is one of the most irritating protagonists with which to be stuck because throughout the book she rarely thinks of anyone besides herself and how she feels. Things just happen around her and she barely does anything about them. The only time she does anything actively, rather than passively, is near the end of the book when she acts on impulse and rage. Then she makes the brilliant decision to abandon everyone to what’s going on in the ship and leave because she wants to be with an alien she dreamed about.

That brings me to the plot, which was filled with cliché, irritating mechanics. The Koen/Rachel thing was incredibly abrupt and made no sense except as a means to generate tension and show, once again, how selfish Terra is. The bait-and-switch at the end was more aggravating than surprising, especially because there was absolutely no foreshadowing beforehand. Then Terra makes the stupidest decision ever and then the book ends.

I have absolutely zero interest in picking up the sequel. The plot and Terra irritated me too much in Starglass, and the fact that the last 3/4s of the book are sensual scenes of Terra making out with her boyfriend and then moping around, I’m completely not into whatever the sequel will bring, which is apparently more of the same except that now Terra makes out with an alien. No thanks; I think I’ll pass.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

“Um, Rebbe Stone?”  I said, clearing my throat. “I can come back later if you want.”

She waved a hand at me, but her gaze didn’t move from the microscope. “Don’t call me ‘Rebbe’! The council might think they can make me teach you, but they can’t force me to be as formal as all that.

I chewed my lip. “You didn’t request me?”

“Bah,” Mara said. “‘Request.’ They’ve been trying to strong-arm me into retiring for years. They think you’ll be my deathblow. Sit down!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2e2nSBe

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The Education of Bet, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin.

When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they appear content with the life fate has bestowed upon them. But appearances can be deceiving. Bet can experience only what society allows for a girl. Will is afforded much more freedom, but still only as society dictates. Neither is happy. So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: She’ll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses. But when she arrives at school, the reality doesn’t match what Bet imagined. Boys act very differently when they don’t think there’s a girl in their midst. In fact, they can be rather brutish. But brutish Bet can deal with. It’s the stirrings of attraction for her roommate that get Bet into real trouble. This is not the education Bet expected.

Rating: 2/5

I can’t believe there was once a time when I thought the “girl who dresses up as a boy” trope was interesting. Bloody Jack is the only book I’ve read recently where I don’t mind it. I might have enjoyed it more in The Education of Bet if that trope wasn’t paired with the “disguised girl falls in love with roommate/best friend/person who thinks she’s a boy leading to awkward situations” as well as a completely obvious plot twist that I could see coming from the first chapter of the book.

I liked Bet well enough as a character, and the odd things she says in disguise are pretty fun, but the disguise plot with the addition of the “rebel against society” trope was enough to make me regret reading it almost as soon as I started. Luckily, the book is relatively short, and the parts at school really aren’t all that bad even if they’re a little stereotypical.

I can see some people loving The Education of Bet if they really like the premise of it. It’s a classic “girl is frustrated at lack of freedom society gives her, so she Decides To Do Something About It and disguises herself as a boy to get an “education” (although Bet is far from uneducated, so pretty much she just wants to do What The Boys Are Doing) and then falls in love with her roommate, surprise surprise” plot, and that does appeal to some people—but not me.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Bet stuffs some socks down her pants, gets groped by prostitutes, and then canoodles with her boyfriend/love interest.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Can I get you something before I go?” he asked, at last tying his tie. Thank God! “Perhaps some plain toast or a cup of tea? I could ask Mrs. Smithers—”

“I’ll be fine,” I snapped, cutting him off. “Really, by second lesson, I’ll be right as rain.”

He studied me for a moment, as though I were a curiosity.

“Huh,” he said finally. “It must be a wonderful thing, knowing the exact moment one will be well again.”

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