Reviews

Mini-Review | The Hazel Wood and Weave a Circle Round

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By Brianne Reeves

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Elevator Pitches:

Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
When Freddy gets new next-door neighbors who are loud, obnoxious, and maybe a bit magical, she and her siblings are sent on a wild adventure to keep the balance between chaos and order in the universe. Their adventures span time and space and leave them tampering with the gods and with the nature of reality itself. Alice’s grandma was a cult classics story writer swathed in mystery. But Alice and her mother never talked about her. They only knew they were very, very unlucky. After Alice’s mother disappears, Alice is set on a wild adventure leading back to her grandmother’s estate, the Hazel Wood. Her past is inescapable and things are more fairytale-like by the minute.

 

Highlights:

Weave a Circle Round: The best part of this story is the way it captures family conflict and its use of circular and parallel story structures. Freddy’s adventures have eerie echoes of one another that eventually lead to some interesting conclusions. Maaren uses these echoes to engage Freddy with her own problem-solving skills and sense of strength. It’s through that growth that Freddy can embrace her family and resolve the conflicts between chaos and order.

The Hazel Wood: The Hazel Wood has some wonderfully dark fairytale moments. Albert is clearly going for more of a Grimm’s fairytale world than a Disney princess world and has some moments where she truly succeeds. Alice’s story embraces a kind of occult wild goose chase that I found incredibly appealing. Bonus points: the romance subplot is not actually a romance subplot.

Downfalls:

Weave a Circle Round: Weave a Circle Round would have benefitted from some clearer plot. Its circular elements have very high points, but also can serve to distract from what Maaren is really getting at with some of her themes. They can be confusing and occasionally leave the reader with a sense of having missed something.

The Hazel Wood: Alice needed more character development. She doesn’t really try to understand others around her and gets very angry, which has its place, but Albert doesn’t really use that to its best advantage. Additionally, some of the occult and mystery elements waiver in the first half of the book.

If you must read one… I’d probably say read The Hazel Wood, but with the caveat that younger audiences will enjoy Weave a Circle Round more. The Hazel Wood is very interesting YA, but Weave a Circle Round is more approachable and traditional adventure fantasy. Personally, I enjoyed the darkness in The Hazel Wood more, even if it could have used some work.

If You Have to Pick (2)
I’d probably say read The Hazel Wood, but with the caveat that younger audiences will enjoy Weave a Circle Round more. The Hazel Wood is very interesting YA, but Weave a Circle Round is more approachable and traditional adventure fantasy. Personally, I enjoyed the darkness in The Hazel Wood more, even if it could have used some work.
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Review | Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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So, it’s not a secret that I’m a Nnedi Okorafor fan. I like her blend of fantasy, social commentary and emotional honesty. Binti boasts all of these traits. In her newest novella, a 97 pager unless my kindle lies to me, Okorafor tells the story of a young girl who leaves her village and people to go study mathematics among the stars. This is Okorafor’s first “Outer Space” story and I was ridiculously excited to read it. As in, staying up until midnight when it was downloaded on kindle and proceeding to read until  two a.m. excited.

Binti, is from a small cloistered village. Though her people are extremely talented mathematically they are isolated from the general population. Binti has never left her village. When she’s offered a spot off-world at one of the most prestigious universities,  Binti decides to go against her family’s wishes and leave to pursue her education. But, going away from home is more dangerous than Binti had imagined and she’ll have to use her skills as a harmonizer to survive.

Binti’s abilities in mathematics are really cool. She does what’s called treeing, finding the patterns in mathematics in a trance-like state. She also is able to tap into some really cool technology.

Okorafor often talks about the way that we see other groups, especially those whose habits and appearance are clearly different than our own. One of the things I really liked about this is that Okorafor (1) doesn’t pretend that being among aliens will somehow magically turn the world post-racial, and (2) the treatment Binti receives from the dominant human group is problematic, but extremely subtle. Things like people touching Binti’s hair without asking or even knowing her create a subtle, but impactful sense of the culture.

The story has a great sense of excitement, without being overly action-packed. Binti’s ship is boarded and while it is, at first, quite dramatic and violent, a lot of time is spent talking about the consequences of a violent boarding. In that way, I think it satisfies a lot of both the action and emotional factors I like in a story.

There are some plot holes– communication between the aliens and the humans is supposed to be a fairly rare thing (only two people can communicate between the species), but there’s a treaty in place. Some of the story points could use some more development, particularly after Binti’s ship lands at University. Similarly, I could have handled more character development.  Mostly those weaknesses come down to me wanting to see more of the world.

The story is well done overall. I think this length was a bonus for Okorafor. She writes a lot of her short fiction and then expands on those stories to create her novels. I think this was a happy medium for her writing style. It was enjoyable, despite me thinking that some of the story points needed more development.

*Note: After posting this review, I did receive a copy of Binti for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Spotlight on Graphic Novels: The Fuse

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The Fuse vol 1: The Russia Shift

You can get a copy of The Fuse here.

Deitrich is a German police officer who requests a transfer to the Fuse, a space station with its own vastly different culture and circumstances. There, he’s assigned to homicide and “the Russia shift.” He’s not on the Fuse for a full day when cabelers (an isolated homeless population who lives in the maintenance areas in the walls of the Fuse) show up shot to death. Because guns are highly restricted on the station, the murders peak Deitrich’s interest. He and his abrasive partner, Klem, are about to uncover a horrible secret.

The artwork in the graphic novel is interesting. It reminded me of the artwork in the Jackie Chan Adventures. It’s lots of angles and rough-hewn shapes. It’s interesting. Klem’s gender is a bit ambiguous, but that plays into the way that Klem is as a character.

The story is interesting. It’s fast-paced and interesting. The plot itself is a little rough at times. There’s a lot of convenient plot points that are a bit too easy to come by.

The dialogue is a bit stinted at times. Dietrich never uses contractions which was off-putting. I think this is supposed to make him feel like a non-native English speaker, but it was more awkward than beneficial to his character. His actions make him feel far more real than his dialogue does.

The overall story has a lot of interesting subtext. The Cabelers are a great point with a lot of potential for development. We’ve been told that there’s a lot of complex ideas and reasons that the Cabelers exist and their interactions with the mainstream citizens is going to be great when more fully explored. I’m quite excited for it.

Klem is going to be a very interesting person to see develop. She’s cold and a bit sterile, but we know there’s more to her. The relationship we see with her and her son, as well as the way she approaches Dietrich hint at some very complex relationships.

I received this comic as an e-ARC from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

Spotlight on Graphic Novels: Habibi by Craig Thompson

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Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi follows Dodola, a young Arab woman, and Dodola’s adopted son, Zam. Dodola was sold into marriage at a very young age and, though her husband allows her something of a childhood and ensures she is educated, Dodola is eventually kidnapped and forced into slavery and prostitution. It is as a slave that Dodola, then an early teenager, finds Zam, a three-year-old slave who she takes in.

Dodola and Zam escape their captors and flee to the desert. They live in isolation for years until they are found and Dodola is captured for the sultan’s harem. Zam is alone and Dodola is again enslaved. They are determined to find one another again.

The art in Habibi is beautiful. It integrates the story, biblical tales, and Arabic script beautifully.

The story itself was disappointing. Habibi could have been an interesting story about motherhood, love, and freedom.

As the story progressed, the relationship between Zam and Dodola became less and less familial. This is somewhat expected. Boys grow up, after all, and relationships can be changed by this. But there wasn’t a lot of foreshadowing for this change on Dodola’s part. Throughout the book, she refers to Zam as her true child, even rejecting her own biological children because they were not Zam. It was very strange and discomfiting to then see their relationship change to a less familial and more romantic relationship. It seemed out of place.

I couldn’t figure out what time or place they were supposed to be in. It may just be that it’s hard for me to conceive of a country that has plumbing, electricity, and modern automotives that also has a section of its population that doesn’t know that it exists. It’s also hard to see a country with those amenities condoning slavery, especially given political pressures that exist in the world. I could normally attempt to ignore this, but it stood in such contrast and really segmented the plot and the character’s journeys.

Overall, I was disappointed. I gave this a 3 of 5.

Get your copy of Habibi here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Habibi-Craig-Thompson/9780571241323

Spotlight on Graphic Novels! Coffin Hill Vol 1

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Coffin Hill Vol 1

Coffin Hill* follows a young woman, Eve Coffin, who has returned to her home town after she leaving the Boston Police Department. She’s caught serial killers and had a successful career. Though she’s not excited to be going home, a town where children sing-song at her and call her the “Witch of Coffin Hill,” she has bigger things to focus on.

Eve’s walked into the horrors of her past: teenagers have started going missing in the Forrest of Coffin Hill. Eve’s worst fears, that the teenagers are being consumed by an evil she’s unleashed, are about to be realized and she’s in for a battle.

Highlights:

  • Coffin Hill features a main character who is more concerned with her own sense of self and coming to terms with her past self than she is with her romantic interest.
  • Eve is headstrong and rushes into things, at times without thinking. This often stems from a personality where helping is more urgent than needing a guardian to keep her safe. She’s unafraid of conflict and doesn’t need someone else (namely her old friend and police chief) to help her.
  • The artistry is fantastic. The novel utilizes overlays and multiple perspectives in creative ways. Miranda often shows multiple views of the same moment in the same panel. This may seem confusing, but the result is a multidimensional moment with a sense of movement that is often lacking.

I expect that there will be lots of moments for growth as this series continues. It could use some more pauses and more explanation of how the past and present are interwoven.

Overall, a 4 out of 5 and a seriously optimistic eye towards the future.

Coffin Hill Vol 1 will be available May 20th. You can preorder it here.

*Review material for Coffin Hill Vol 1 was received via NetGalley

Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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Title: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Publication Date: April 2005

Genre: Contemporary

Overview: Nine year old Oskar Schell’s father is dead. When Oskar finally gathers the strength to go look at his father’s belongings he finds a mysterious key hidden in an envelope in the bottom of a dusty, blue vase. Oskar wants desperately to know what the key opens, what mysteries his father may be hiding. His only clue is the word “Black” scribbled in red pen. Oskar then goes about an adventure that takes him throughout New York City.

For Fans Of: Mark Haddon, John Green, Safran Foer

World-Building: There’s an interesting type of good will that Foer presents in his novel. While there are strangers who are confused by Oskar and bullies who are fairly unrelenting, many people are content to accept that a strange young boy who asks too many questions is asking them. Even before Oskar’s mother interferes, we can see this happening. People simply accept that he is there and that he is asking personal questions. They answer and remain relatively non-plussed. I didn’t find this to be a drawback. It was actually rather nice, but strange nonetheless.

Character Development: I liked watching Oskar grow throughout his adventure. It was nice to see him start to recognize his mother as a person. As children we often take our parents for granted. It was good to see that acknowledged. It was also good to see him start to be aware of others’ feelings and needs.

I thought Oskar’s voice throughout was very well done. He really rang true, asked the questions that he would ask, mourned in a fitting way, and loved in a way that seemed very true.

I also really liked the direction that Oskar’s grandparent’s relationship took. I enjoyed seeing some reconciliation there.

Plot: The plot was nice. It was a bit secondary to Oskar’s grief, but that was appropriate. I, admittedly, was worried about his safety. The last 70 or so pages were pretty great.

Rating: 4.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Extremely-Loud-Incredibly-Close-Movie/dp/0547735022

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Extremely-Loud-Incredibly-Close-Main-Theme-/9780739088678