You know what? Meh. That’s what.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Although I really did enjoy the first three books in what I think should have been stayed a trilogy, I’m not sure that I love the sequel series.

This book chronicles the story of Jace essentially turn to the dark side, thanks to a rune on his chest and Clary, Simon and the gang’s scramble to get him back, while protecting him from the Clave, who would try him for treason if they caught him. But mostly it’s relationship drama with a side of supernatural and demon fighting on the side.

That’s the problem with this book to me. Where the first one was a relatively generic Chosen One/Teen Love story, there was quite a bit of fun world building, interesting support characters and a story that added something to the book. But this trilogy I’m finding is a little thin on those elements. The world building is more of less done and not really being expanded on. The support characters are all just tangled up in their own somewhat manufactured relationship drama and the story is driven mostly by the manufactured relationship drama. And even that relationship drama feels a little disingenuous and under developed.

The Clary and Jace relationship, which realistically had never been exactly healthy and normal is further tortured by Jace being possessed by Sebastian, motivating Clary to risk her life and be generally crazy in her attempts to bring him back, ignore his reckless behavior and pursing their unstable relationship across Europe. Simon and Izzy continue to not quite admit their feelings and Maya and Jordan start a relationship despite the fact that during his transformation to a werewolf he was an abusive, controlling jerk who hurt her on purpose. So yup I’d describe this book as a collection of unhealthy relationships with an absurd amount of drama.

So, all in all, a real step down from the first book. I’ll finish up the series but I’m hoping the next book brings me a bit more plot and a little less drama.

Last movie I watched:

Incredible Hulk. I thought it was pretty good other than the way too long fight scenes.

Last TV show I watched:

Shadowhunters, as it turns out. I think the show really made some narrative improvements on the book, but was not particularly good at casting.

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Some light Batman

Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol 2: The Starfire by Scott Lobdell, Kenneth Rocafort and Timothy Green

I’m not going to chat about this book in the context of the wider New 52 stuff because I’m not up do date on most of it any more. I will add also that I don’t have a lot of the context of the New 52 on Starfire or Arsenal.

I do want to say one thing about each of them each though. Arsenal is well written and I really liked him. Starfire is drawn ridiculously sexually. Ridiculously. I know this is drawn for an audience that probably doesn’t think about this too much, and I know that Starfire is supposed to to be sexually liberated but she basically wears no clothes and is in a sexy pose whatever she’s doing. I don’t understand why sexually liberated means not wearing clothes so standing with her boobs popped out.

Because I love the Batfamily most, I will just mention a few things about the story from that point of view. I loved Jason’s portrayal in this. Not only is he well written and funny to read but he’s a complex and challenging and genuine. Having him care about Tim Drake and their brief conversation really completed  him in a precise way. The dynamic between Arsenal, Red Hood and Starfire was great! They were fun and fast paced and great to read.

I don’t have a lot of smart thoughts to say about this book, as it turns out. It was a good read, I’m glad I took a break from my serious reading list for a quick, fun read.

Last movie I watched:

I think Moana still. So cute

Last TV show I watched:

Last episode of The Dragon Prince and I really liked it! I’m looking forward to some more and would also like a baby dragon.

Heartbreaking, hopeful but also mostly gutting

We Are All That’s Left by Carrie Arcos

This book is really compelling, really heartbreaking and a good story about one of those things I didn’t know a lot about. I really value YA lit that widens my world view. The story is told in two perspectives. The first person narration is a diary entry of a typical American teenager – her strongest relationships are with her friends, she loves photography and she doesn’t get along with her old fashioned Mom. The second story is a third person narration account of her old fashioned mother as a teenager during the Bosnian genocide. Their lives are brought together when a fictional terrorist attack in the USA injures them both and brings them closer as part of their healing process.

Although the writing isn’t particularly outstanding, it’s a good story. It’s always startling to me to learn about history that I was alive during. Sure, I was a little kid at the time, and I was kind of aware of hearing about Bosnia, but I didn’t understand it at the time and as an adult it’s hard to reconcile that terrible things didn’t just happen in my grandparents time – the World Wars, the Depression, etc  but in my parents time and worst of all, in mine. I imagine my kids will have a similar moment when they realize I was a teenager during 9/11. As uncomfortable as it is, I’m glad this book made me look closely at how recently there’s been this kind of violence in the world and remind me how unkindly history looks on people who stay silent during times of great violence.

At it’s core, this story is about trauma and the healing process being about connection and faith. Nadja, the mother, survived the trauma of genocide, rape, outlived her family who were all killed and lived in a city under siege for years where she faced starvation and snipers. And yet she made it to the United States, met a man, got pregnant and found joy in her baby. But she was never able to talk to her children about their grandparents or her past and she remained closed off from the world. Zara saw nothing in her mother but her weird habits, obsessive behaviors and closed off nature. After the terrorist attack Nadja is able to see her daughter learning to cope with the same trauma she is experiencing and understand that keeping her terrifying past away from her children has held her back from them. Zara comes to understand that trauma and violence change a person in very profound way and that her mother is a product of a brutal life, scarred, just like she is now.

I’m an atheist and generally don’t read outright religious texts and maybe that’s why I wasn’t really prepared for the religious element in this book. Although the concept of God is quite loosely defined (Nadja is ethnically Muslim but celebrates both Christmas and Eid during the war and almost never attends mosque and Zara doesn’t have a clear sense of her own faith at the start of the book) through the introduction of Joseph,  a young man Zara meets at the hospital and his quest to at least temporarily practice all the major world religions, Zara moves towards having a relationship with God. In the abstract I didn’t connect with her because of my own bias but it’s probably a good thing for me to consider from time to time, where religion fits into other people’s lives.

The ending had me in tears and that’s all I can say safely, without spoilers. But it really did drive home this feeling the book carries that love is as strong as anything bad in the world.

Last movie I watched:

Moana. Love it!

Last TV show I watched:

The Dragon Prince. Although the animation isn’t great, the story and characters are great! Definitely committed to this show!

I am … okay

Lorien Legacy: The Power Of Six by Pittacus Lore

I suppose I should say, in defense of this series, I haven’t read the whole series. I saw the movie, and read one of the other books so maybe I’d enjoy this more if I’d done better with the series.

The second thing is that I listened to it, and I really didn’t like the readers. That can make or break an audiobook, and in this case, it broke for me. The reader for Four’s part wasn’t great but he was okay. The reader for Seven drove me nuts! I don’t know why she read all the parts of the Spanish characters with a terrible Spanish accent if all the characters, including the main character, are speaking Spanish?

Overall I felt this book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great – the language wasn’t particularly compelling, and while the story moved along at a good pace, the characters lacked any real depth or characterization, the villains lacked complexity and the story was generally predictable. I liked it well enough, but I’m a snob and I guess I was looking for something a little bit more.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed seeing a love triangle with a boy in the center. If there had to be a love triangle, it was nice to see it wasn’t a girl. After all, boys have feelings too.

I’m sure I’d recommend this series to an older child or young adult – it’s a fast read, plot driven and fun. I’m sure I wouldn’t recommend it to adult snobs.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I loved the first one so much it could hardly live up to my expectations, but it’s not bad.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Love it!

Very deep, just a little bit scary

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I really like John Green, his online personality as much as his books. So I was pretty excited for this.

As I side note, I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was pretty good, if anyone’s got a long road trip ahead of them.

This book centers around Aza, a sixteen year old girl who has a great best friend Daisy who convinces her to help look for a missing billionaire in Indianapolis to get the hundred thousand dollar reward. She also has a few pretty serious mental health issues. As she struggles with her sense of herself, Aza and Daisy’s quest changes everything for both of them.

Overall it was a great read. Like most John Green books, it’s pretty philosophic and maybe a little more thought driven then plot driven, but that’s okay. There’s lots (and lots) I could say about it but I will just mention a thought or two and get on with on my day.

One of the things that I could most terrifying and wonderful was Aza’s mental health issues. John Green clearly brings his own personal experience to this book. Aza’s constant search for the perfect metaphor to describe her illness, like if she could just explain it accurately somehow she’d be better. I found (spoilers! just assume there are spoilers from here on out) her late night drinking of hand sanitizer to be a terrifying and traumatic read for me. The writing was perfect. Not only was Aza out of control, but the reader was too. It was scary.

I also really liked that Aza and her love interest, Davis, the son of the missing billionaire, did not end up together.  John Green often subverts expectations about happily ever afters (see Paper Towns) but Davis and Aza really had a connection. It felt tangible and real and built on something that mattered, not the far too common love at first sight coupling that YA so enjoys. But lots of relationships between two people who are really connected don’t work out and YA doesn’t always do a great job of showing that.

And I liked that the core relationship in the story was Aza’s and Daisy’s. Because again, YA novels often put all the focus on the romance, and not the best friend. There’s the odd exception of course, but generally it’s not. This is unfortunate, because I have found in my own experience (not a study or anything) that after high school you’re way more likely to keep in touch with your friends than anyone you dated.

So it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a great read and I would be more than happy to recommend it to any young person.

Last movie I watched:

Golden Compass. It was good. Certainly not the movies fault they didn’t make the sequel. I blame the book.

Last TV show I watched:

Galavant. Hilarious.

Paranormal Love Triangles

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

This young adult novel follows a pretty familiar pattern – young girl who’s always felt a little, well different, starts public school for the first time, immediately forms a special connection with a cute boy and then starts to experience from pretty weird stuff  that will throw her into an epic battle between good and evil. Guiding her along the way? A cute fairy boy who she has a strong connection with and he tells her the truth – she was never a human at all but a fairy all along.

There’s a lot of good stuff here. Certainly the fairy lore is at least as well researched as most of the vampire/werewolf/angel/demon kind of mythology that constantly leaks into this genre. The story is pretty neat too, playing off the idea of changelings, which of course is part of fairy lore, but set in modern times when Laurel has to worry about science and doctors revealing her secret which is pretty interesting. The world ending premise (that the bad guys will take control of Laurel’s human parent’s family land) is also pretty neat.

But the characters lack the depth to really make them get up off the page and relate to. They’re good, fine, flat but for me, not looking for someone I need to project into, it was just a little disappointing.

I would still recommend it to younger teens who were looking for something to follow up the other paranormal love triangle books.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! I just can’t form words

Last TV I watched:

The Crown. So good.

Magical Science Fiction

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

I adore Kelley Armstrong. I think this was the first of her YA fiction that I’ve read and while I would say it was good, really good even, I guess there’s something about YA’s tropiness that makes it hard for even great writers to really shine. Having said that, I would very much recommend it and read the rest of the trilogy.

The story is about Maya, a pretty typical teenager who lives with her adopted parents in a community on an isolated park on Vancouver Island, founded entirely by a large medical company. The sudden death of her best friend, and a year later increasingly strange things happening to her sends her on a quest to understand who she really is and what this doctors who founded her town are really researching.

Like many YA titles it falls victim to a few standards – first loves, relationship drama, one ultimate mean girl, orphan with mysterious and unknown past, best friends confused with dating partners and a tension between the teens and the authority figures. Most of these are okay on their own, but as they stack up, it starts to feel a little stale.

But it’s also got some great points too. Maya is an indigenous character. Not being indigenous myself I can’t say if her close ties to the forest and the animals could be seen as reinforcing a stereotype or as a really cool, accessible magic power  or as a bit of a mix of both. It certainly adds a something to the story. Kelley Armstrong’s fast paced, narrative driven style makes it almost impossible to put down. It also deals with attempted date rape, which is also something I think we all benefit from talking about with teens. And it’s both written by a Canadian and set in Canada, so that’s just a great bonus.

I would recommend this  book for it’s intended audience – teens and do so happily! I will continue to love Kelley Armstrong.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! So good although kind of a kick in the teeth

Last TV show I watched:

The Crown. So good guys, so good!