6.23.2015

Review: Devoted by Jenifer Mathieu

Title: Devoted
Series: N/A
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: June 2nd, 2015
Page #: 336
ISBN: 1596439114
Aquisition: Library loan

Goodreads, Author's Website









Goodreads Description
Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

My obsession with young adult fiction with fundamentalist Christianity continues! This book was definitely easier to get through than some of the others in this category like The Chosen One or Sister Wives. Mathieu definitely did her research on this book, citing Kathryn Joyce’s “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement” book, and one of my favorite reads last summer, so I requested this one from my library as fast as I could.

Maybe because I did read that book, and have been picked through the “No Longer Quivering” blog Mathieu also cites as a reference for a while, that this book didn’t hit me as hard as it will probably hit others. I’ve been around this block before, so nothing was particularly shocking or disturbing to me (i.e. women not being allowed to speak during prayer time, sanctioned teenage marriage and pregnancy, modest dressing methods, emotional suppression, etc.) That’s what’s keeping this book from hitting all five stars: I’ve seen the themes in YA fiction before, and Devoted didn’t really bust any barriers for me. Obviously this will be different for someone less “devoted” (haha) than I am to this sub-sub-sub-genre of fiction so I don’t want to penalize Mathieu.

But even though the “oh my gosh people actually do this” mentality was lost on me, Devoted still proved to be a sweet, heartfelt contemporary tale. Mathieu did a good job of spacing out Rachel’s growth in the story. When a girl leaves behind a community like this she doesn’t necessarily jump instantly into casual sex and booty shorts. Rachel is still uncertain of her place in her world once she’s out from under her parents’ (read: her father’s and pastor’s) thumbs and her adjustment to life outside of what she’s used to comes gradually over the course of the book, from her first unchaperoned conversation with a boy, to her first sleeveless shirt, to her first paycheck, and so on. Things don’t immediately click in to place when she first starts out, nor does she figure everything out by the end. The book is very light on the romance to reflect this, seamlessly avoiding another issue I’ve had with books of this kind.

The fact that Rachel kept her faith in God through the book was also nice. I wouldn’t really classify this book as “Christian fiction” but if there’s one aspect of her identity that Rachel is certain of it’s that she believes in God and wants to pray. Keeping that aspect of her personality and upbringing really helped round out her character without making her feel unrealistic. Likewise, with Lauren, who left the same Church under much more violent pretenses, has different feelings and reacts to things differently and sees the world differently. The same goes for the other women in Rachel’s life, like her mother and sisters. It’s refreshing that Mathieu understands that not every woman is going to feel the same about religion, or leaving it for that matter. No one is “othered” in this book, and none of the characters we meet are painted as 100% evil or wrong.

All in all, a lovely read with a heartfelt main character and a tasteful plot for inquisitive girls of all faiths.


Four Stars!

6.05.2015

Serial Box #4: Bee and Puppycat #01


Welcome back to Serial Box, my (semi) regular discussions on comics I've recently read! This time...

Written by Natasha Allegri and Garrett Jackson
Artwork by Natasha Allegri

If you like pastel colors, fluffy animals, eating food (and watching people on TV eat food), fun costumes, and temp jobs then Bee and Puppycat, the fun YouTube show from Frederator, is probably already on your radar. If not, it should be!

Bee and Puppycat is a series of short episodes on YouTube about a girl named Bee who meets a strange creature named Puppycat. The two of them work for Tempbot who sends them on different ridiculous jobs around the galaxy. There’s only five episodes so far at about six minutes each so they’re perfect for when you’re eating lunch/ waiting for someone to pick you up/ avoiding finishing an essay/ etc.

This comic, understandably, is pretty lighthearted and fluffy. Not much happens, nor does it seem to be going in any certain direction or following a really strict plot. The creator, Natasha Allegheri, is responsible for Fiona and Cake of "Adventure Time" fame, so if you’re familiar with the art and silliness featured there then you already know what to expect.


I tend to like more serious works that follow a stricter plot line, but this makes for a nice read if you just need something to kick back to. It’s cute and funny and is great for kids or adults who love cute things. The art has beautiful pastel colors that fit perfectly with the mood of the comic. I’m glad I nabbed this one when I had the chance and if you like the Bee and Puppycat show then by all means pick it up too!

6.02.2015

Review: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Title: The Sixth Extinction
Series: N/A
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Publication Date: February 11th, 2014
Page #: 319
ISBN: 0805092994
Acquisition: College interlibrary loan










I read this book for my Intro. to Sustainability class that I took this past spring. The paper I wrote on it was eight and a half pages long, so let's try and shorten that down for this review!

The Sixth Extinction is a non-fiction book about life, and death, on Earth. The title comes from the concept that there have been five mass extinctions, or mass deaths, encompassing most of life on Earth at the time of their occurrences. Most people are familiar with the K-T extinction, or the event that killed off the dinosaurs.

The fact that dinosaurs once walked the Earth but now no longer do is a topic that even very young children understand: we go to museums to see their bones, see fictional movies about bringing them back to life (with mixed results), and play with their toys. Non-dinosaurs, like mammoths and neanderthals, are other animals that we know are no longer with us. However, this is a relatively new idea: about two hundred years ago people figured that everything they saw was all that there was. It took scientific revolutions in biology and the emergence of paleontology for people to begin to understand that there was life before humans.

The Sixth Extinction, then, is about what happens while we're here. If the scientists, researchers, and conservationists that Kolbert interviews and visits are correct, then not only are we in the midst of the first mass extinctions for humans to witness but we are also the root of this problem.

Kolbert looks into many different intersecting topics for her book: ocean acidification, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, warming climates, and human intervention as well as the causes of all of these. Often intersecting with one another, these events are killing off different species, though not necessarily humans, at increasing rates.

Kolbert, however, approaches these bleak topics with humor and grace. She describes each new location and meeting with vibrant language that is easy to understand. The concepts in the book are explained thoroughly and without too much technical jargon. This isn't a book that you need an M.S. in paleontology, geology, or biology to understand. It's written to inform, not reiterate.

I think that reviewing non-fiction books is difficult. I'm still in school, so I can't confirm, back-up, defend, or "prove" anything that Kolbert is writing in her book. I can only recommend it on the grounds of what I think it is: well-thought out, well researched, and entertaining, if not a little bit morbid. When the stakes are as high as they are we need books like The Sixth Extinction more than ever; we need books that incite interest in topics like the ones presented here because, now or never, we need people who are educated. Voters, teachers, pastors, community leaders, politicians, everyone, really, should make an effort to educate themselves on the non-human consequences of certain actions, and reading The Sixth Extinction is a good place to start.

Five Stars!


5.23.2015

Serial Box #3: Princess Leia #01


Welcome back to Serial Box, my (semi) regular discussions on comics I've recently read! This time...

Written by Mark Waid
Pencils by Terry Dodson
Inks by Rachel Dodson
Colorist is Jordie Bellaire
Cover art by Terry Dodson

When Princess Leia Organa was captured by the Empire as a Rebel spy, she never betrayed her convictions, even in the face of the complete destruction of her home world, Alderaan. When her rescue came, she grabbed a blaster and joined the fight, escaping back to the Rebel Alliance and helping strike the biggest blow against the Empire—the destruction of the Death Star. But in the aftermath of that victory, the question remains...what is a princess without a world? Writer Mark Waid (Daredevil, S.H.I.E.L.D.) and artist Terry Dodson (Avengers & X-Men: Axis, Uncanny X-Men) bring us a story of Leia’s quest to help her people and find her place in the galaxy.
 My current Star Wars obsession is still relatively young; I first saw the original trilogy in 2010 and sat through all six movies together in 2011. I only really got into Star Wars as a series last summer when I started reading the comics, and even more so in January when I read my first novel (A New Dawn, which, why haven’t I reviewed yet?)

I’ll admit that I like the comics, books, and various shows more than I like the movies. I feel like the six hours we get to learn so many characters just isn’t enough. That goes especially for Princess Leia, the tough, brave, smart-mouthed lady who, for the longest time, was the only lady most fans of the Star Wars series could name. (Sorry, Mon Mothma!)

Now we’ve improved: Padme Amidala, Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress, and all kinds of ladies both canon and not have filled up books, movies, cartoons, and comics. It’s nice to see that, in their reboot, Disney hasn’t forgotten to include the gal who started it all.

Readers only need to be familiar with Episode IV: A New Hope to start Princess Leia. In fact, the first few panels pick up right at the awards ceremony where A New Hope leaves off. Where this takes us after that I’ll leave up to the reader to read and find out, but it includes a lot of decisions that line up perfectly with some of what her father pulled during the Clone Wars: stealing ships, dramatic rescue missions, and flat-out usurping authority (which, believe it or not, you still have to do when you’re technically the highest authority.) As for the art, the cover alone is stellar (no pun intended) and the panels are colorful and fun without being cartoony.

Princess Leia #1 is definitely worth an investment for new fans of Star Wars who are jumping on board with the new movies and rediscovering the old ones. I’m excited to see where Leia, and new character Evaan Verlaine, take us. Judging from Leia’s valor and quick wit from A New Hope, I know it’ll be worth it. 

5.18.2015

Review: None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

Title: None of the Above
Series: N/A
Author: I.W. Gregorio
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Page #: 352 (233 in my digital ARC)
ISBN: 0062335316
Acquisition: ARC from Edelweiss

Goodreads, Author's Website









NOTE: I received an ARC of this book for review from Edelweiss on 1/23/15. The book was published on 4/7/15. Because of this, some of the scenes I addressed/ quotes I use may not appear in the final copy. Please keep this in mind when reading my review.

This book was a mix for me: a good topic and ideas with an execution that I wasn’t entirely happy with. An interesting main character with a lot of potential, but a lot of jumping around and a failure to live up to that potential. Genuine research into the lives of people with AIS, but some rude comments that I couldn’t overlook.

The best part of the book was how Krissy’s navigation of her newly-discovered intersex identity was sympathetic and well-researched. I don’t have AIS, so obviously you should take the word of a person with AIS over mine about how this identity is portrayed, but it sounds like Gregorio took the time to speak to people with AIS/ identify as intersex to write a better story. I can respect that, as can I her decision to write a character with AIS in the first place; it’s an identity that so few people understand and I applaud Gregorio for taking that step and making an effort to make her writing more inclusive.

My main issue was that the book felt like it was being pulled in multiple directions, like Gregorio stuffed all of the issues an intersex person could face into the book at once. The result is a jumble of plot lines that never really reach a climax nor have a satisfying conclusion. This includes: bullying/ transphobia/ intersexphobia, the right to compete in sports, health concerns/ the decision to have medical procedures, sexual identity/ queer identities, sexual activity, sexual assault, cyberbullying, etc. These are all important themes, but a lot of Krissy’s feelings and reactions to these events felt pushed under the rug or conveniently forgotten so we could move onto the next problem. What this book needed was more time, and a lot more pages, to get a chance to resolve things as they need to be or at least address them more than once and for more than one chapter.

I couldn’t get myself to connect to any of the characters, and I feel like the only characters that we got to see really fleshed out were Krissy, her father, and her (dead) mother. The rest of the characters either felt flat or like Gregorio wanted to write about them but never got around to it. For example, Krissy was a “big” (kind of like a student mentor) to a girl on the track team, so you’d think that fleshing out their relationship would make sense seeing as Gregorio tried to make a plot line out of Krissy possibly not being able to compete in sports because of her intersex identity. In actuality, we only see the girl twice.

Another issue I took with the book were some comments made about Castor Semenya, who is frequently referenced in the book because she is also intersex and a runner/ athlete like Krissy. Unfortunately, not all of these mentions are positive:

 “[Krissy’s dad] clicked through to another article and there was a close-up of a runner. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.” (pg. 102)
This isn’t okay. Calling a person an “it” is completely unacceptable and especially when that person is a real human being. Castor isn’t a fictional character that Gregorio made up, she’s a real person who’s been dehumanized because of the identity that Gregorio is (supposedly) trying to fight the dehumanization of. Krissy’s distaste for Caster is never really touched upon, or resolved, but is apparently justified because she’s a “real” woman:

“I don't look like Caster. I look like a woman. I am a woman.” (pg. 106)

I agree that Krissy’s insecurity about her own identity as a woman needed to be addressed within the book, but Caster Semenya is a woman because she says she is and that’s that. Again, I don’t identify as intersex, so I’d like to hear what a person who identifies as such thinks about this, but these lines definitely spoiled some of the book for me.

Overall, the book felt unfinished. The digital ARC that I had been sent was only 233 pages while Goodreads says the final book will be 352. Maybe that’s just how the pages are split up from one format to another, or maybe Gregorio went back and wrote in more scenes to fill in some of the patchiness and confusion, or to flesh out more events/ characters to make them feel less rushed. I sincerely hope it’s the second, and will gladly take another look and write a new review if that’s the case.

Three Stars!


2.17.2015

Serial Box #2: The Midas Flesh Vol. 1


Welcome to Serial Box! Here, I talk about comics that I've been checking out recently. This week:

Written by Ryan North
Illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline
Goodreads Description 
We've all heard of the Midas Touch. You know, the Greek myth about the man who did a number on himself by wishing everything he touched to turn to gold? Well, you haven't heard everything.

Joey and her space crew have decided to return to Earth--a planet completely sectioned off, abandoned, and covered in gold--to find out exactly what happened to this once thriving planet and see if they can use that knowledge against the evil empire that's tracking them down. As luck would have it, they just landed the most powerful weapon in the universe: some ancient dead guy's body.

The totally unpredictable first collection of Ryan North's debut original print comic book series The Midas Touch, featuring art by illustration dynamos Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, will leave the reader reeling from start to gilded finish.
The first four issues of an eight-issue series, the first volume of The Midas Flesh is awesome. It's a totally original story, so there's no worrying about catching up or who or what you'll be able to recognize. I love the premise most of all: I was already familiar with the story of King Midas, so this was a really interesting twist on his story.

I've also been getting more and more into space stories recently. The Midas Flesh follows the pretty typical space opera plot of "rebels" vs. some kind of evil empire/ society/ fleet, here called "The Federation," so you know kind of what to expect in that field. Still, the mixture of futuristic with mythological keeps things pretty interesting and fresh, which was really nice. I'll be picking up the second volume for sure, but all eight issues are already out and available to read if you can track them down online or at your local comic shop.

Also, reading this is another tally towards my Diverse Books Challenge! So happy to see a Muslin girl named Fatty, short for Fatima, in this book. She's one of the three protagonists and has frequent speaking roles and is heavily involved in the daily activities of their ship. Ms. Marvel has been getting a lot of (very well-deserved) praise recently, but it's nice to see that more comic publishers are branching out as well.

 Volume 2 will be published on June 9th, 2015.

1.23.2015

Serial Box #1: Marceline Gone Adrift #01


Welcome to the first installation of Serial Box! 2014 was a big year in comics for me, and I've had plenty of time to build up my collection of comic series both short and on-going.I've really enjoyed my sojourn into comics so far and I look forward to this segment where I get to talk about them!

Written by Meredith Gran
Illustrated by Carey Pietsch
Marceline is on a rampage for mysterious reasons, and the kingdom of Ooo is desperately scrambling to stop her. In trying to save both Ooo and Marceline herself, Princess Bubblegum accidentally propels Marceline into the farthest reaches of space...and strips her of her powers! Guilt-ridden, Princess Bubblegum sets off on a space rescue that’ll test the power of her mind...as well as the power of friendship.

The first volume in a planned series of six, Marceline Gone Adrift has grabbed my attention with just the first issue. I stopped by a new comic store this weekend, a little one in the town over, and decided to grab it. It's written by Meredith Gran of Octopus Pie and illustrated by Carey Pietsch.

The art and color palette are amazing; mostly pinks and blues (for obvious reasons, for those who are familiar with Adventure Time.) You can see more of Pietsch's work at her website to get a feel for it; it's very lovely. She's new to the Adventure Time series (besides a variant cover for Banana Guard Academy), which already has several other comic series out, but her character designs and expressions fit right in with the style of the show.

We're only just getting started plot-wise but already enough questions have been introduced to keep the series going. I'm sure that once we hit the second issue we'll start answering these questions, but until then we have a solid beginning. I look forward to issue #2!