The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

Information

Goodreads: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Series: The Two Princesses of Bamarre 0.5
Source: Purchased
Published: May 2, 2017

Official Summary

In this compelling and thought-provoking fantasy set in the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine introduces a spirited heroine who must overcome deeply rooted prejudice—including her own—to heal her broken country.

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

Review

Although I have not re-read it in several years, The Two Princesses of Bamarre has always been my favorite Gail Carson Levine book, so I was ecstatic to learn Levine was publishing another book about Bamarre this May.  The slight catch:  This stories takes place many years before The Two Princesses of Bamarre, and the kingdom featured is not quite the one that fans know and love.  In fact, the Bamarre people are subjugated under the Lakti, forced to wear tassels and work only as servants rather than free people, and the beautiful land across the Eskerns is only a dream they have.

This is a book that explores identity and prejudice.  The protagonist is raised as a Lakti and taught to consider the Bamarre beneath her– a people who are weak and unimportant in comparison to the aggressive Lakti.  The story is partially a journey of her coming to realize that was she has been taught may not quite be the truth.  While I was initially tempted to take some issue with the fact the Perry seems able to see the good in the Bamarre only because she is actually Bamarre by birth herself (there’s some nature vs. nurture problem here), some of the other Lakti’s views on the matter also turn out to be complex and changeable, which helped.

The book isn’t bleak, however; there’s plenty of the heart and magic that readers expect from Gail Carson Levine.  There are also a number of allusions to people, objects, etc. that appear in The Two Princesses of Bamarre, though I’m sure I missed some of them due to not having read the book recently.  Expect a fun treasure hunt of allusions if you’re already a Bamarre fan, but don’t worry about recognizing these small nods if you’re not; they’re not crucial to understanding the plot in any way.

I did think the plot lagged in places because Perry has to slow down and do some learning before she can go on to great and exciting things, but overall the book was interesting.  The characters also shine.  Both the Lakti and the Bamarre are complex, and Levine puts great effort into developing and describing their histories and cultures.  No one is one-dimensional in this novel.

I’ve been looking forward to a new Gail Carson Levine book for a while, and this does not disappoint.

4 stars Briana

The Private Eye: Cloudburst Edition by Brian K. Baughan, Marcos Martin, Munsta Vicente

private-eye-cloudburstINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Private Eye
Series:  Private Eye #1-10
Source: Library
Published: 2015

SUMMARY

Years ago the cloud burst, releasing everyone’s Internet searches to the world.  Now they take on various identities, using codenames, masks, and disguises, to hide their secrets.  But when an illegal P.I. gets caught up in a murder case, he may find that privacy is even more of an illusion than he thought.

Review

Okay, yes.  The premise of this series can seem a little cheesy.  Does anyone even care about their privacy on the Internet anymore?  Most people share every detail of their lives willingly!  A story about how this is dangerous can sometimes feel like it’s trying just a little too hard to be relevant and to speak to modern times.  Let’s talk about what the kids know, right?  Still, if you can get past the premise, The Private Eye is an engaging read, one full of suspense and mystery.

I love a rogue investigator as much as the next person, that mysterious figure who can find the truth when the official channels fail.  There’s something about the loneliness of the job that makes you want to cheer for them.  In that respect, The Private Eye captured me from the start.  Who is the mysterious P.I.?  Does he really only care about money?  Will he take his hardest case yet, for the thrill of the challenge?

The mystery surrounding the hero is the story’s most enticing point.  The world, full of men and women who don disguises to hide, say, their intellectual interests from their parents or their penchant for a fun night out from their boss, is interesting enough.  It’s all very sci-fi in the best way.  And the secondary characters are truly engaging and sympathetic, especially P.I.’s grandfather, who remembers the days of the Internet and finds P.I.’s horror of it quite amusing.  However, P.I. lies at the center of the story and he  needs to be compelling for it to work–because eventually the plot falls apart.

The ending feels rushed, the stakes don’t feel that high, and it’s certainly unclear whether we ought to be fearing the villain as much as P.I. does.  Certainly the villain is bad–he’s a murderer.  But is his plot so diabolical?  Are we going to side with P.I., are we going to feel the danger and the suspense that he is, when we don’t buy into P.I.’s worldview?  Perhaps only if we buy into P.I. as a character.

Ultimately, The Private Eye is an entertaining read, one sure to appeal to graphic novel fans and sci-fi fans.  The premise is, if nothing else, thought-provoking–assuming you allow your thoughts to be provoked, since the book itself seldom delves into the questions it raises.  And the characters are the best part.

4 starsKrysta 64

5 Great Things about the Orangutan Librarian

In November 2016, we shared six of the blogs were were grateful for and five things we loved about each one.  It was a popular feature, so we’re bringing it back this May, featuring some more bloggers we hope you’ll visit and love, too!

Orangutan Librarian

I bet you are all surprised to see that an orang-utan can manage to use a keyboard, let alone run a blog about books. Well, prepare to be amazed, because I’ve barely got started yet. Ok enough aping around. Please insert the usual disclaimer about all opinions being my own here. Also try not to take offence at any of my brutally honest opinions. Yada yada yada, etcetera etcetera. So without further ado (*drumroll please*) I hereby declare this virtual library open.

She Posts Interesting Discussions

I love book reviews on blogs, but I also love discussions–interesting discussions that get people talking in the comments.  The Orangutan Librarian posts topics that generate conversations and often lead me to look at things in new ways. Check out her post on whether we should review nonfiction here.

She Loves Fantasy

Fantasy is one of our favorite genres here at Pages Unbound, and we’re always thrilled to find other fantasy fans.  Here, the Orangutan Librarian shares her top ten favorite fantasy books, including Tolkien and Garth Nix!

She Speaks Her Mind

She’s always respectful, but she’s not afraid to share her opinions on books and bookish topics and to blog in a unique style that makes her blog one of my favorites.

She’s a Star Commenter

She replies to every comment on her blog (well, as far as I know…I haven’t really checked every comment), and I often see her commenting on other blogs, adding to the conversation and supporting the community.

Finally, She Reads Chaim Potok

Potok is one of my favorite authors, up there with Tolkien and L.M. Montgomery, and I think he doesn’t get nearly as much love as he deserves in the book blogosphere.  So I am super excited that the Orangutan Librarian has read and reviewed several Potok books, including most recently In the Beginning.

 

Why Is It So Difficult to Be Accepted Into an English Grad Program?

Discussion Post Stars

Since the 1960s and 1970s American colleges have become more democratized, opening their doors to more students and offering in many cases what are still known by some as “remedial” courses to students who come in not “college ready.”   The hope is that such measures will help those who have not shared the same advantages of their wealthier peers to obtain a college degree.  At the same time, English graduate programs are shrinking their acceptance rates so that is is not uncommon for a program to take on five to eight new students a year.  A larger program might take fifteen students.  As a result, competition is fierce and to be accepted applicants must demonstrate a commitment to the discipline by explaining their specific professional goals and demonstrating a level of competency through submitting writing samples, indicating that they have already begun to professionalize by publishing or attending conferences, etc.

This may sound elitist–why can’t grad schools be more democratic and accept more students into their English programs?  Why only select those who have already demonstrated professional competence in their field?  Why not offer “remedial” courses and allow some students to stay a few more years in the program learning what others already learned when they earned their BA?  (Please keep in mind that “remedial” is the term many colleges use simply to describe what is part of the democratization process, and it’s not meant to be read as pejorative.)  Surely it’s worth spending more money, even a couple tens of thousands of dollars, on such a project.  The answer is bleak and it has to do with the job market.

Everyone “knows” that jobs in the humanities are hard to get, especially if you’re talking about jobs for someone with an English Ph.D.  However, the numbers are worse than you probably think and, when you see them, it’s hard not to wonder why people bother putting themselves through the agony of English Ph.D. programs at all.

To begin to understand the academic job market for English graduates, we first have to understand that colleges in the U.S. have a hierarchy.  The hierarchy  looks something like this:

  • full professor
  • associate professor
  • assistant professor
  • lecturer/instructor
  • adjuncts
  • grad students/GAs/TAs

Full professors and associate professors are typically tenured, meaning they have job security until they retire.  Assistant professors are tenure-track, meaning they can achieve tenure by publishing, conferencing, heading committees and doing other service, and receiving positive student and instructor reviews.  Lecturers are non-tenured.  Adjuncts are non-tenured, part-time, receive low pay, and typically receive no benefits.  GAs and TAs are grad students who receive a small stipend for teaching (maybe $18,000/yr, slightly more if they are lucky or in a better-paying field than English).

Tenured jobs in the academy are increasingly shrinking (and English departments are shrinking, too, because they have trouble competing for spending money when they go up against STEM departments).  Adjunct jobs, meanwhile, are increasing.  A study on adjuncts, or contingent faculty, The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty?, notes that in 2013,” contingent faculty accounted for at least half of all instructional faculty across all types of institutions, ranging from 50% at public research universities to more than 80% at public community college.”  Graduates from English PhD programs will more than likely end up as adjuncts initially, maybe for years.

Adjuncts used to be what their name implies–additional faculty who held full-time jobs in their field or industry, who then taught a class at a college on the side.  But now adjuncts are being used instead of full-time, tenured faculty.  Why?  Because they’re cheap.  In 2013, NPR reported that adjuncts make between $20,000 and $25,000 a year. In March of 2016, Inside Higher Ed reported that adjuncts, on average, receive $2700 per course.  At this rate, if an adjunct somehow manages to get four or five courses, they’d still only be making up to $13,500 a year, and that’s without any benefits.   Plus they often work without being offered office space or a voice in the department when policies are debated, and they have no stability from one semester to the next as they can simply not be rehired for no cause.  Further, adjuncts often only achieve as much money as they do by working more than one job.  Kevin Birmingham notes that 89% of adjuncts work at more than one college and 13% work at four or more.

The personal stories offered by adjuncts as they try to live are often moving.  In June 2015, a piece in The Guardian revealed how the writer received $15000 and no benefits for teaching five courses.  He made better money and got benefits working retail.  Kevin Birmingham in “The Great Shame of Our Profession” tells of one adjunct who reported selling her plasma twice a week so she could send her child to daycare.  Slate reported in 2015 that up to 25% of adjuncts may be receiving food stamps (and these are people with MAs or PhDs, remember).

Keeping  in mind that tenure-track jobs are nearly impossible to get these days, grad schools can’t afford to take in students who under-prepared and may sink to the bottom of the job market pool.  They will spend their lives as adjuncts, working multiple jobs for low pay and no benefits, and without any job security.  If they become sick or pregnant, they could lose their job.  If not enough people sign up for their class at the last minute, it could be cancelled without warning.  If their university has a policy that they could be considered for a higher-ranking job after teaching, say five years, the university has the option of randomly not rehiring them the year they would have achieved enough experience to ask for a promotion.

Maybe grad programs wish they could be more democratic, but they know that that is, in a sense, unethical when the market is glutted with qualified candidates and that only three job postings or an entire eight postings! might go up that year* in a specific field .  So they accept maybe five to eight students a year, knowing the competition is fierce and they can only send the best of the best.  Some graduate schools accept more than eight students, of course, but there are some who believe that these schools are contributing to the problem of the overcrowded job market and providing their students with false hope.

If we want graduate programs to become more democratic, the entire academy would have to be overhauled so that there were more tenure-track jobs and fewer adjunct jobs.  Or at least decent pay for adjuncts.   Contrary to what you might read on the Internet, however, soaring university costs are not a result of overpaid tenured faculty.  Most tuition money goes to administrative costs such as athletics, student organizations, counseling, etc.  Do you think students would be willing to either pay more tuition or lose some administrative costs to pay adjuncts more?  Will we ever see students protest for increased adjunct pay?

Krysta 64

Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive?

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Spoiler warning for the end of the novel! (Though that’s probably obvious….)

This is a tough question for me because I think the answer is entirely dependent on what one most values, and valid arguments could be made for both positions.

Buck faces a tough life and a large number of challenges throughout the novel, but by the end, he has found a truly good master, a friend.  Various men had tried to beat the wildness and passion out of Buck, but Thornton is kind to him, and the two have a great relationship.  Ultimately, however, Thornton still ties Busk to civilization, and one of the primary questions the book asks is “Is that tie to civilization good?”

The ending is at least a little sad because Thornton dies and Buck is left on his own.  The narrator writes: “…He knew John Thornton was dead.  It left a great void in him, somewhat akin to hunger, but a void which ached and ached, and which food could not fill.” Yet because of Thornton’s death, Buck is able to join a pack of wild wolves, and he appears to thrive.  He becomes a prince among wolves, the head of a pack that the humans tell legends about: “They are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it has cunning greater than they.”

So the question is really about whether you believe the “returning to the wild” is a positive or a negative.  For Buck, it seems to work out.  He seems to regain his “true nature,” to be able to develop a prowess his human masters often stunted in him.  In that way, the ending seems decently positive to me.  However, if the question is whether “returning to the wild” is good for all animals, or for humans (a question the book definitely raises in spite of the fact that the protagonist is a dog), the answer is probably more complex.

You can read my review of The Call of the Wild here.

What do think? Link us to your post or tell us your answer in the comments!

Briana

Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Maud
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: April 2017

SUMMARY

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery dreams of attending college and becoming a writer, but her grandfather does not believe in higher education for women.  Worse, when she finally goes out west to be with her father again, her new stepmother treats her as nothing more than a nanny.  Will Maud ever find a way to follow her dreams?  Or will she grow old feeling that her world has grown increasingly smaller?

Review

Fans of Anne of Green Gables, rejoice!  If you have ever wished to find a similar book and have already read and reread all of L. M. Montgomery’s other titles, this might just be the book for you.  Based on Montgomery’s journals and letters, Maud recounts the author’s teen years on P.E.I. and in Prince Albert.  Maud is a little bit of Anne and little bit of Emily, combining a love for life and beauty with a desire to overcome the odds.  But Maud is, most importantly, ultimately herself–and you are sure to fall in love.

The early parts of the book most resemble Montgomery’s novels, which can make it feel at times like the author and the reader are playing a game of “spot the allusion” together.  Perhaps this is understandable, however.  Montgomery’s stories sprang from her own life and her own feelings of loneliness, frustration, and despair–as well as the moments of deep joy– certainly made their way into her heroines’ journeys.   Maud’s tale is, however, a little darker than those of her young female protagonists, and readers will find themselves sympathizing with her as her world shrinks and her hopes diminish.  Knowing how history turns out does not make the journey less moving.

The pacing of the story does feel a little uneven, with Maud’s years in P.E.I. and her blossoming romance with a certain handsome someone cut abruptly short at the end of Book One.  Book Two, which chronicles Maud’s years with her stepmother and her father in Prince Albert, takes up the bulk of the story.  This is where much of the drama is, as Maud tries to hone her writing skills even as her stepmother tries to keep her from school so she can play nanny to her stepmother’s children.  However, Book One offers many delightful friendships, quiet and reflective moments, and cherished time spent on the Island.  Fishbane could have made Books One and Two roughly equal in size to keep the narrative pacing consistent.

Overall, however, Maud is a charming tale of a young woman growing up, discovering herself, and chasing her dreams.  Fans of Montgomery’s works will love it, but, with its compelling protagonist and sweet romances, fans of YA will find much to enjoy in it, as well.

4 stars

Nature vs. Nurture in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Spoilers)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As I was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (yes, I just got to it in April), I was struck by how several of the characters believed that if Voldemort ever had a child that the child would inevitably be bad.  They have such a revulsion to Voldemort (understandable) that they assume his child would inherit his villainy—basically that evil is inherent and determined by one’s parentage.  I don’t think this is Rowling’s or any of the co-writers’ opinion (well, it could be, but I have no way of knowing), but I find it interesting that in a series where characters are often not what they seem and villains are sometimes redeemed that there seems to be no room for the thought that a child of Voldemort’s might be anything other than a new Dark Lord (or Dark Lady).

Case One: Scorpius Malfoy

The book opens with the rumor that Scorpius Malfoy might the son of Voldemort.  When Rose Granger-Weasley and Albus Potter meet him on the Hogwarts Express, Rose is distant and suspicious from the start.  When Scorpius introduces himself, she is noticeably “cold” and blurts, “Your mum and dad are Death Eaters!” (16).  However, this is not the sticking point for her, and she finally has to spell out her discomfort to Albus:  “The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus” (17).  With this point clear, she turns on her heel and denies friendship with both Scorpius and Albus, if he’s going to associate with such a person.

Though Harry, Hermione, and Ron deny that they believe this rumor, there’s evidence they do.  Harry admits near the end of Act Three to Albus that he was against the friendship between the two boys because of it: “Well, I was wrong too—to think Scorpius was Voldemort’s son.  He wasn’t a black cloud” (203).  All these characters would presumably have enough reason to be suspicious of Scorpius for being Draco’s son—but Draco is semi-reformed since the end of HP 7, and the boy clearly wasn’t raised as a Death Eater.  They are all suspicious that he might be Voldemort’s son, and that this would make him a terrible person even though his mother was a decent person, even though he was raised in a normal household because simply being related to Voldemort would make him bad.  For them, nurture trumps nature.  Albus makes this clear when he tries to comfort Scorpius’s own doubts about his parentage: “I don’t think Voldemort is capable of having a kind son—and you’re kind, Scorpius.  To the depths. Of your belly, to the tips of your fingers.  I truly believe Voldemort—Voldemort couldn’t have a child like you” (143).

Admittedly, however, there is some argument for the important of nurture; Scorpius states explicitly that his friendship with Albus has made him a better person.  When Scorpius has to make some tough choices in the alternate universe where Voldemort succeeded, Snape reminds him: “Think about Albus.  You’re giving up your kingdom for Albus, right?  One person.  All it takes is one person” (193).  I don’t think the point is that friendship with Albus has made Scorpius a more virtuous person, however.  When the audience first meet him, he’s an eager kid trying to make friends with sweets and talking about his lovely mother; there’s no evidence he was ever tempted to the path of evil.  Friendship with Albus simply makes him more outgoing, more confident, more courageous.

Case Two: Delphini Diggory

Delphini is a somewhat less complicated case, in part because readers don’t see much of her after the “big reveal” of her true identity.  There are a couple things that we know, however.  The first is that she was raised by Death Eaters.  As she’s toying with Scorpius and Albus in revealing her true intentions for using the Time Turner, she casually drops this line about the woman who raised her: “She didn’t like me much.  Euphemia Rowle…she only took me in for the gold” (219).  Scorpius is concerned and slowly observes, “The Rowles were pretty extreme Death Eaters” (219).  It is this revelation that makes him most suspicious of Delphini, and—without knowing she’s Voldemort’s child—he realizes she’s probably up to no good.  Nurture is the issue here, as someone raised by practicing Death Eaters was probably raised to value Dark magic.  However, Delphini’s childhood never comes up again.  From this point forward, the driving point is that she’s Voldemort’s daughter.

And it is her parentage that alarms everyone.  When Harry and company raid Delphini’s room and discover (through an absurdly convenient message) that she’s Voldemort’s child, they panic.  When Hermione shares the news with the rest of the wizarding community, their reaction is “A child! Anything but that!”  They seem to subscribe to the view that Albus expresses earlier, that a child of Voldemort would undoubtedly be evil.  No one thinks for a moment that she could be otherwise.  They assume, without proof, that she’s up to no good with Albus and Scorpius as hostages.

The audience gets little explanation for Delphini’s personality and values beyond this, except in the scene at Godric’s hollow.  Here we learn that Delphini wants nothing more than her father’s approval.  She repeats “Farther!” frequently when speaking to Harry-disguised-as-Voldemort and then tells Harry, “I’ve studied to be worthy of him!” (290).  Is the desire to follow in her father’s footsteps nature or nurture, though?  Is this an idea she got from being raised by Death Eaters?  From having heard a prophecy that she could be a powerful Dark witch?  Or is it simply that a daughter of Voldemort must be like Voldemort?

There’s some nuance in the play, but the characters appear to strongly believe that nature trumps nurture and that a child of Voldemort’s must be evil, no questions asked.  What do you think?

Briana