#CBR6 Review #74: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Rarely have I felt like fist-pumping a book while I was reading it. But then, I had never read Diana Peterfreund before.  tumblr_lrylxlTnsA1qacgfco2_500

I fell in love with For Darkness Shows the Stars and then realized that there was a companion novel. I was so excited. Across a Star-Swept Sea is not a direct sequel, but it involves the same world and even has a few cross-over characters (I won’t say anymore–it would spoil the surprise).

This time, Peterfreund draws from the Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. I don’t know about you, but I greatly enjoyed the novel when I was in college, and I *especially* love the 1980s film adaptation with Anthony Anderson, Jane Seymour, and the delicious Sir Ian McKellan. I mean, how can anyone resist its charms?

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“Sink me!”

Just as the Reduction wiped out people in For Darkness Shows the Stars, people who are not aristocrats (known here in New Pacifica as regs or regulars) face the dangers of Reduction and its damaging effects on the brain. The islands of Galatea and Albion find themselves in conflict, especially since Galatea is undergoing civil war and Albion is being governed by a princess placeholding the throne until her brother comes of age. The only hope of saving people from torture, Reduction, and certain death is the Wild Poppy, a wild, flamboyant, and highly elusive hero masquerading as a soppish and silly aristocrat.

And the Wild Poppy is a young woman.

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My feminist heart grew three sizes today.

Persis Blake is 17 and living a double life as the Wild Poppy and a silly socialite. She and her best friends, Princess Isla and Andrine, have formed the League of the Poppy in order to save Galateans from Reduction. In the midst of a rescue, she meets budding scientist Justen Helo, a descendant of Persistance Helo (a woman who formed a medical cure for Reduction). They agree to pretend to be in a relationship for a variety of political reasons, but then they become acquainted. And then secrets begin to surface that can jeopardize not only a potential relationship, but the entire world they know.

This is not just a love story. It’s the story of a woman brave enough to risk her life to save others who have been abused by figures of authority. It’s the story of finding your purpose in life. And it’s the story of not judging someone based on her appearance.

This is the line that made me pump my fists in sheer joy:

Yet even when she was acting her flakiest, she still managed to make more sense than his revolutionary friends back in Galatea. He’d known it, even if he hadn’t wanted to believe it. How odd that an array of gorgeous dresses and a few well-placed dumb comments were all it took to disguise her true self. Was it because she was a woman? Was it because Justen was actually far shallower than Persis had ever appeared to be?

That sound you hear is Diana Peterfreund dropping the mic.

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Farewell, vapid heroines. So long, silly young adult novel stereotypes. This is an awesome book about awesome ladies. The romance is secondary to the action, science, and adventure deftly integrated into this novel. The female friends are not fighting about boys–they are fighting to save the world from evil.

Across a Star-Swept Sea is easily one of my favorite CBR picks this year. I think I might even like it better than For Darkness Shows the Stars. It’s an exciting, affirming novel about what a young woman can do and be if she only believes in herself.

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#CBR6 Review #73: Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau

Joelle Charbonneau continues her hot streak and ends The Testing trilogy on a high, surprising note. I really hope that more people get to read this series–it’s a decently paced and interesting dystopic fiction series.

Graduation Day picks up where Independent Study left off–Cia has just found out some deadly information that changes all she knows about the rebellion that is planning to overthrow The Testing. She has tried to remain true to her dad’s advice–trust no one–but finds it an impossible to keep. If she is going to take down The Testing and the individuals responsible for it, she must keep a cool head and demonstrate why she belongs in Tosu City at the University in the first place. But can she trust anyone? Her boyfriend Tomas? Will, the classmate who double-crossed her during The Testing? President Collinder? The story twists and turns as Cia’s world becomes increasingly complex, leaving the reader wondering how it will all resolve in the end.

While this narrative is also set in first-person, Charbonneau avoids the meandering, fragmented voice that Suzanne Collins used in Mockingjay. Granted, Katniss suffered severe PTSD and Cia never does, but still. Charbonneau manages to keep the novel succinct but filled with action and mystery. It’s overall not better than the Hunger Games trilogy, but it avoids a lot of the mistakes found in Mockingjay.

If you liked The Hunger Games, I think you’d like this. I was satisfied with the ending–it felt right, and it was original and unique. I hope they decide to make a movie out of this, though the teen market is probably feeling a bit saturated, right?

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#CBR6 Review #72: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

After thoroughly enjoying David Sedaris read his own work, I decided it was time for Part II. I chose Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on audiobook, since that’s his latest. I am sure I will get around to the others, as well. I’ve had friends who read this work and said they were starting to wear thin on Sedaris’s schtick. I totally get that. My sister believes he’s plumbed his life thoroughly, and I don’t disagree. However, since I’ve only read two books (and on audiobook at that), the novelty has not worn off yet.

While Me Talk Pretty One Day focuses a lot on Sedaris’s attempts to learn French and his experience with language, this collection is a bit more random. It starts with Sedaris’s attempt to find a stuffed (taxidermy-wise) owl for his partner, Hugh. I enjoyed that. Then there was “Obama!!!!!”, in which the 2008 election yields European and American responses to President Obama’s ethnicity. I also enjoyed “Easy, Tiger,” which I taught last fall to my Composition I students (who–props to them for being so awesome–thought it was hilarious and begged me to read more essays like it). But the money shot for me was “Author, Author,” in which Sedaris attempts to find chintzy favors to hand out at his next reading. He ends up buying an economy pack of condoms at Costco with his burly brother-in-law and suddenly becomes self-conscious about how gay (that is, homosexual) it all looks, in North Carolina, no less. The delivery on the audiobook had me clutching my sides, which was not good, since I was driving up to school.

I think Sedaris has an engaging, witty, and colorful style, and I *really* enjoy hearing him read his book. Highly recommended.

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#CBR6 Review #71: Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

I enjoyed Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing and thought that I would keep on with the second book in the trilogy, Independent Study. I think that Ms. Charbonneau actually veered away from a repetition of The Hunger Games and took her story in a slightly new direction.

Cia Vale has passed The Testing and is now being assessed to see where she will be placed for studies. In the midst of her preparations, she finds out what being “redirected” actually means–spoiler: it’s horrifying. In her panic, Cia realizes that the system of The Testing is broken. Really, the whole system, for its innovations and technological advances it brought forth, is broken. So she must make a series of choices. Who does she trust? Who does she consider her enemy? are all problems she must grapple with as she tries to keep up with her schoolwork and her relationship with Tomas. And yet she has memories that keep coming back to haunt her…

This series has come under criticism for Cia being too much of a know-it-all. But I disagree. She’s a logical thinker. She’s scientific. Therefore, she is going to rely on logic and empirical reasoning to solve mind problems. She is going to rely on her mechanical training that she’s cultivated since childhood. Maybe her timing and figuring out such problems is a bit too convenient, I’ll grant you, but c’mon. I root for smart girls!

The end presents a rather shocking twist I did not see coming, so I am intrigued to see how Ms. Charbonneau will close out the trilogy. Either way, it was the perfect book to read for the first week of school. Intriguing and engaging without being too intellectually taxing.

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#CBR6 Review #70: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

First, a confession: I don’t mind darker family dramas. I don’t mind dysfunction in literature. I really don’t mind literature that is not light and happy. BUT I CAN’T HANDLE WEIRD HOARDING ECCENTRIC BEHAVIORS. This book kind of broke me, can you tell?

Ruthie Stone and her sister Lucille have lived a tumultuous, unstable life. The novel begins with the death of their grandfather, who was killed in an accident when the train he was on went off the tracks and slid into a lake near the town of Fingerbone, Washington. It affected Ruthie’s grandmother, mother, and aunts, who were all described as “quiet.” Helen, Ruthie and Lucille’s mother, was married in a shotgun wedding, had two girls, and then, when they were little, took them back to Fingerbone to her mother, and then drove off a cliff. The girls live with their grandma until she dies, and then they are inherited by her sisters-in-law, the nervous and prim great-aunts. Then their aunt Sylvie returns to Fingerbone amidst a life of transience, and the stage is set for family conflict.

There are sometimes I really just want to shake a literary character, and Ruthie and Sylvie were two such people. Sylvie is…odd. She wears her coat in the house and eats and sleeps at odd times. She spends days mooning over the lake and doesn’t really understand how people function in society. She hoards old newspapers and magazines until the house is disgusting. Honestly, that’s what broke me. I can’t handle filth. I can’t handle hoarding. I worked for several summers at a senior home care agency, and I could handle just about anything–including helping a person bathe or wipe themselves at the toilet–except hoarding. And Ruthie gets caught in the undertow. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I finished the audiobook while on my morning walk, and I actually yelled. It maddened me.

This book gets two stars instead of one, because it is gorgeously written. Robinson is a very talented writer. I just didn’t care for the story. I hear Gilead is excellent–I will read that soon.

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#CBR6 Review #69: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Next to Jane Austen, I love no author and works better than those of George Eliot’s. I have often been teased or side-eyed, especially when I lead in with Silas Marner. What can I say? It’s easy to love Silas when he’s played by a Jack Russell terrier in a pint-sized costume:

Stay gold, Ponybone.

Stay gold, Ponybone.

Wishbone introduced me to Silas Marner in eighth grade, and then I read and fell in love with Middlemarch in college. I briefly declared it my favorite novel above Pride and Prejudice, and then reconsidered–but it’s in my top three novels of all time, for sure. I connected with Dorothea especially, and I found her misguided earnest desire to make the world a better place both heartbreaking and inspiring.

So when I saw the audiobook for My Life in Middlemarch, I was intrigued. I wondered how Middlemarch impacted author Rebecca Mead’s own life, and I was intrigued by the connections she would make. Mead mirrors her own book with the novel itself, and each chapter is titled after each of the books that comprise the whole novel. In it, we find insights into the novel, Eliot’s own life and writing, and, in much smaller detail, Mead’s own real-life connections.

Initially, I was disappointed that the book did not seem to live up to its conceit. I at first knew very little about how Mead’s life and philosophy were impacted by Middlemarch. But I did find out a lot about her life with her longtime partner, George Henry Lewes, one of the great and unexpected literary love stories around. I gained a lot of insight into the novel, and I fell in love with it–and Eliot–all over again.

It’s beautifully written and insightful. If you at all like classic novels or books about books, you will greatly enjoy this book. I’ve already requested the Middlemarch audiobook for my school travels, because it’s time to read it again.

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#CBR6 Review #68: Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

Back in May, I recognized Jennifer Donnelly’s name on her new book Deep Blue. I had really enjoyed A Northern Light in college (and I think it’s time for a re-read now), and I’ve been meaning to read her Rose Trilogy. The Chancellor laughed at me for reading a YA mermaid book, but I actually kind of enjoyed it.

Serafina is the heir to the kingdom of Miromara. Preparing for her coming-of-age ceremony, she is fluttered by her singing/magical performance and her upcoming betrothal to Mahdi, prince of a neighboring realm. But during the ceremony, a sudden attack tears apart the kingdom and forces Sera and her best “merlfriend” (yes, I am embarrassed that I am typing this, but let’s move on) Neela must find a way to protect their merfolk and find other young merls like them who are destined to change the fate of the world.

Let’s start with the groan-worthy and end on the positive, shall we? It’s definitely geared more towards the tween crowd, and there are several exposition-heavy, punnish moments that made me feel…old. Out of place. And I hate feeling too old for a book.

But the idea of merpeople and kingdoms under the sea has not really been plumbed for teens, so the series itself will be a bit of a novelty. I was intrigued by the world Ms. Donnelly set out to create, so I hope she can flesh it out in the quartet that she is planning to write.

And then there’s the part that elevates this series entirely. Despite Sera’s supposed engagement, this is not a love story. No, dear reader, it’s about FEMALE FRIENDSHIP. Woman-to-woman friendship unmediated by a man. Without petty jealousy. And what disagreement exists is about differing kingdoms and not about boys. Or whose mer-gina is better. This is a novel that would pass the Bechdel test.

Will I be reading the next book? Yes. But let’s just hope that Ms. Donnelly keeps up the girl power and does not sink into a predictable love-and-rescue tale.

 

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