Macmillan E-Book Embargo Abruptly Cancelled

On March 17, 2019, Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent surprised libraries with the announcement that the publisher’s controversial e-book embargo would be lifted beginning this Friday. The memo implied that concerns over coronavirus and library closures may have played a role in the reversal. It begins with the sentiment that, “There are times in life when differences should be put aside,” before moving into the embargo reversal. The memo also states Macmillan may lower some ebook pricing to “help expand libraries collections in these difficult times.” It remains to be seen whether the embargo reversal will be permanent and whether Macmillan will try out different pricing models in the future. For now, however, they will return to the October 2019 pricing model.

Macmillan’s announcement seems to have generated little interest as news coverage focuses on the coronavirus. It will be interesting to see whether the embargo cancellation will reflect favorably on Macmillan, or if consumers will be disappointed that it seemingly took a pandemic for the publisher to want to sell to libraries.

How Effective Is the Library Boycott of Macmillan E-Books?

Since November 1, 2019, Macmillan, one of the Big Five publishers, has enacted an embargo, only allowing libraries to buy one perpetual access copy of new e-book titles during the first two months after release. This copy is sold at half price ($30). Once two months have passed, libraries can buy additional copies of e-book licenses at full price ($60) for two years or 52 lends, whichever occurs first. After that, the libraries must repurchase the licenses. Macmillan’s policy is intended to pressure frustrated library patrons into buying the e-book themselves by confronting them with high wait lists for popular new releases. In response, a number of libraries (recently reported as 89) have responded by refusing to purchase the embargoed titles or, in some cases, any Macmillan e-content.

Library patrons desirous of checking out new e-books from Macmillan may wonder how effective the boycotts have been so far. Are the libraries making any financial impact, or unnecessarily frustrating library patrons by spending their e-book budget on other publishers? Dianne Coan, Division Director of Technical Operations at Fairfax County Public Library (FCPLL), and Carmi Parker, a librarian and ILS administrator, have been updating the public with information on the impact.

The January 16, 2019 report seems hopeful that libraries are making a difference, and can continue to do so if more libraries join the boycott. The report, especially the linked Google doc, is worth reading in its entirety. Key takeaway points are, however, that a case study of one e-book title indicates that FCPL could reduce Macmillan’s revenue by 83% by boycotting the publisher’s e-books. This takes into account the 8% of library patrons who, when surveyed, said they would buy a title they could not find in the collection. Even if the library purchases more physical hardcovers to meet demand, the report finds, the library would still reduce Macmillan’s revenue because hardcovers are much cheaper for libraries to purchase.

This case study involves one library and one title. To ensure that Macmillan’s revenue remains flat after the embargo, instead of going up, the authors say that one in ten libraries would need to boycott. After that threshold, more boycotting libraries would create a revenue loss. They count boycotting libraries as ones who are not buying Macmillan titles at all, not the libraries who are buying copies after the initial two-month embargo period has passed. They say more study is needed, but it is possible that libraries who buy copies after the embargo period might actually be increasing Macmillan’s revenue, making the embargo successful.

The report goes into more detail on the impact of the boycott on patrons and circulation, among other matters, and certainly is a worthwhile read for those interested in the Macmillan embargo, the subsequent boycotts, and how libraries are being affected by these issues. For now, however, the good news seems to be that libraries might actually be able to leverage their purchasing power to advocate for more equitable access for their patrons–just as long as they stand together.

Thoughts on Macmillan’s AMA Regarding Their E-Book Embargo

Thoughts on the Macmillan AMA

On January 25, 2020, Macmillan CEO John Sargent hosted an AMA at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia to address concerns about the e-book embargo imposed by the publisher last November.  The embargo stipulates that libraries can only purchase one license for a new e-book title upon its release.  They must wait eight weeks to purchase additional copies. Sargent’s hope is that frustrated library patrons who cannot check out a book in a reasonable amount of time will purchase it instead, driving up Macmillan’s revenue.  Libraries have protested strongly to the embargo, some of them even imposing boycotts upon Macmilan e-book titles (though they continue to purchase print versions of the titles, which are generally cheaper than e-book licenses and can be kept until weeded–unlike e-books which expire after a certain number of check outs or after a certain number of months, and must then be repurchased).

Publishers Weekly‘s coverage of the AMA indicates that Macmillan has no intentions to lift the embargo anytime soon.  Sargent stated that more time must pass before the publisher knows whether the embargo has been financially successful.  He also explained that librarians will never get the data they have been clamoring for, since that is private business information, some of it held under nondisclosure agreements.  None of this is surprising.

What is surprising is Sargent’s continued ignorance of how libraries work and why they are important to a democratic society.  This might have been excusable when Macmillan announced the embargo–a CEO probably has no need to use a public library and so is unlikely to understand what libraries do or how they support communities.  Months of meetings with frustrated librarians, however, surely should have inspired Sargent to research the work of libraries more closely. Instead, he explained to librarians during the meeting how libraries work and how that hurts Macmillan’s bottom line–even though his understanding of libraries is at best exaggerated and at worst totally incorrect.

The Publishers Weekly coverage states that Sargent blamed increasing accessibility to library cards–and thus to digital e-book lending–as a troubling trend that allows library patrons to choose to borrow instead of buy.  He suggested that patrons see the books as free and so they see no reason to buy e-books.  He even gave an example of how library patrons might go to extreme lengths to avoid paying for an e-book: 

‘”If you are in the state of California, you can easily own a library card for every library in the state of California, and when a book comes out that you want, you can put your name on every wait list in every county, and there are apps being developed to make that easier to do, and so that drives up the number of lends for every book in every library and that causes the amount of money per reader reading a book to go down. And that is the change that we worry about.”

Sargent’s example is uncompelling because it imagines a scenario that seems far from common; the average library user likely does not hold dozens of current cards. In fact, many libraries require patrons to be taxpayers in their service area, or they charge an annual fee to non-taxpayers, which the average individual presumably does not pay. Additionally, it seems unlikely that the average patron would place multiple holds for the same book in multiple systems. If they did, however, Sargent would have to demonstrate that these holds are all lost sales to Macmillan. But it seems that someone so dedicated to getting a library e-book was never going to purchase the book, anyway.

Furthermore, patrons placing holds are possibly increasing Macmillan’s bottom line by prompting libraries to buy more e-book copies to meet demand and lower hold wait times. If a patron places, say, ten holds at tend libraries, and only reads one of the copies that comes in, doesn’t Macmillan win? The other libraries still purchased a copy to fill the hold and, when that copy is checked out, it counts towards the 52 checkouts a metered copy has, before the library must repurchase the license. (Metered copies are available for two years, or 52 lends, whichever comes first.) Sargent’s claims do not seem to make sense, if you know how libraries work.

The coverage of the meeting suggests to me that Macmillan is not truly open to finding a way forward with libraries. Sargent mentioned that he is interested in either limiting availability or driving up price, but that libraries are opposed to both. (Physical books are generally much cheaper than e-book licenses for libraries.) It seems that the two sides are currently at an impasse.

Interestingly, however, the AMA might bear fruit in that librarians finally recognized that they may have to address how much power Amazon has over the e-book industry going forward, as Sargent confirmed his data has been coming from the online retailer. I have always found it odd that many libraries seem to purchase books or program materials from Amazon, and to encourage patrons to shop there by asking patrons to use Amazon Smile and name their library as the recipient of their donations. Amazon has a long history of harming authors and publishers, and they have exclusive content they refuse to allow libraries to buy, creating more social inequity. Public libraries supporting Amazon never made sense. Perhaps now libraries will begin to realize that cheap prices might not be a fair exchange for giving Amazon a near monopoly on bookselling.

The Macmillan e-book embargo will likely continue for some time. However, I have hope that library and consumer boycotts will encourage Macmillan to reconsider their position and to recognize the power libraries have to market books, to create readers, and, yes, to create consumers.

Supernova by Marissa Meyer

Supernova book cover

Information

Goodreads: Supernova
Series: Renegades #3
Source: Library (in the midst of the Macmillan ebook embargo…)
Published: November 5, 2019

Official Summary

All’s fair in love and anarchy…

The epic conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s thrilling Renegades Trilogy finds Nova and Adrian fighting to keep their identities secret. While the battle rages on between their alter egos and their allies, there is a darker threat shrouding Gatlon City.

The Renegades’ worst enemy is back among them, threatening to reclaim Gatlon City. Nova and Adrian must brave lies and betrayal to protect those they love. Their greatest fears are about to come to life, and unless they can bridge the divide between heroes and villains, they stand to lose everything. Including each other.

Intrigue and action will leave readers on edge until the final, shocking secrets are revealed. 

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Review

Supernova is a satisfying ending to Marissa Meyer’s Renegades Trilogy that brings that same energy, thought-provoking questions, and creative cast of characters as the previous two installments.  Basically, if you enjoyed Renegades and Anarchists, you’ll enjoy Supernova—but if you didn’t, you’ll find the similar flaws.

The main flaw is that every single book in this trilogy has felt long, perhaps a side-effect of the tale growing in the telling (as Tolkien would say).  Renegades was originally conceived as a duology, and while it’s hard for me to point to specific scenes and say some could have been cut to keep it one rather than expanding to a trilogy, I did frequently feel that the books were dragging and we were rehashing similar plot points and themes.  At one point in Supernova, I assumed I must be nearing the end of the novel, only to check my progress on my e-reader to discover that I was actually only 60% through the book.  It was sobering.

Still, I did enjoy the series; I read the whole trilogy, after all.  And one of the things I like most about Marissa Meyer’s writing in general is that she asks interesting questions.  Here, she takes the idea of heroes vs. villains to ask whether the good side is really good and the bad side really bad.  The reality is complicated, of course, and Nova and her friends must face questions like whether the ends justify the means and whether it’s really for the public good for a small group of “good” people to assume the mantle of authority.  I do think Supernova simplifies some of the questions, perhaps as a way of tying up parts of the story and simply ending it, but overall it still gives readers a lot to think about.

I am less satisfied with the actual ending—the epilogue—partially because I don’t think it fully makes sense and partially because it screams, “Buy the companion series!”  This could be an open-ended plot point that Meyer added for interest, but I really think this would not have been included if Meyer did not want to leave the possibility of more Renegades books open—and since I already felt the series was overly long, I’m not convinced more Renegades books are something I want.

Still, however, this is a strong book.  Just expect to get more of what readers got in Renegades and Anarchists, as the books don’t seem to me to have wildly varying characteristics.

Briana
4 stars

Should Libraries Boycott Macmillan?

Should Libraries Boycott Macmillan E-Books?

Last summer, Macmillan, one of the Big Five publishers in the United States, announced that they would be limiting the ability of libraries to purchase new e-book titles, because they believe libraries hurt sales. Since November 1, 2019, libraries have been allowed to buy only one perpetual access copy of new e-book titles during the first two months after release. This copy is sold at half price ($30). Once two months have passed, libraries can buy additional copies of e-books at full price ($60) for two years or 52 lends, whichever occurs first.  Macmillan’s policy is intended to pressure frustrated library patrons into buying the e-book themselves, since wait lists for new e-books will be high just when demand for them is the greatest.

Macmillan’s e-book embargo will hurt some populations more than others and is a serious blow to equal access. Those who live in rural areas or who lack consistent transportation, those who are elderly or have a disability and need the ability to make their reading text larger, and those who lack the money to purchase their own books when the library does not stock, them will be affected the most. Macmillan’s embargo thus threatens the core purpose of the public library: to provide the public with access to information and materials, regardless of who they are.

In response to what they perceive as Macmillan’s harmful business practices, some libraries have chosen to boycott the company. Boycotts vary in nature, with some libraries boycotting titles only during the two months after release, and others boycotting all new e-book titles from Macmillan. Among the boycotting libraries is the King County Library System in Washington state, which reports spending nearly half a million dollars each year on licenses for Macmillan e-books. The system hopes to leverage their financial power to pressure Macmillan to end the embargo.

The boycotts are not, however, without some controversy. Carmi Parker from the King County Library System acknowledges that some librarians may perceive boycotts as counter to the mission of libraries. By refusing to purchase new e-book titles from Macmillan, boycotting libraries are essentially failing to provide their patrons with access to materials and knowledge. Parker argues, however, that libraries need to make a stand against Macmillan’s inequitable practice lest it become standard across the publishing industry.

Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent will be answering questions about the embargo on January 25 at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. But it seems unlikely he plans to announce a major change in policy. So the fight for equal access continues.

Should libraries boycott Macmillan’s new e-books? Or do they have a responsibility to provide the public access to those e-books?

Will the Macmillan E-Book Embargo Help Authors?

Macmillan embargo effects

The Macmillan e-book embargo began on November 1. If you haven’t heard of it, the embargo means that Macmillan will allow libraries to buy only one e-book copy for the first eight weeks after publication. This copy will be a perpetual access copy (meaning libraries can keep it in their collections indefinitely) and will cost $30. After eight weeks, libraries will have the ability to purchase metered copies, which means they can keep the license for two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first. The cost for a metered copy will be $60. The purpose of the embargo is to create long wait times for e-books when hype and demand for them is at their highest, so frustrated library patrons will be forced to buy the books if they want to read them.

Mamillan CEO John Sargent initially justified the embargo by arguing that libraries hurt sales and that the embargo will help authors.  When librarians and library patrons fought back, he asserted that, if the e-book is unavailable at the library, 8% of library patrons will choose to buy it instead.  The Authors Guild welcomed the embargo, stating, “If, as Macmillan has determined, 45% of ebook reads are occurring through libraries and that percentage is only growing, it means that we are training readers to read ebooks for free through libraries instead of buying them. With author earnings down to new lows, we cannot tolerate ever-decreasing book sales that result in even lower author earnings.” (Frustrated librarians pointed out that libraries purchase their e-books, often at rates far higher than the average consumer price–and, because licenses typically expire within two years, they must keep repurchasing these books.)

The Authors Guild stance is partially based on a misunderstanding that people can borrow e-books from around the country and the world (not true: most are license only to specific library systems, so they can’t be borrowed by non-patrons or sometimes even non-residents) and the belief that having one copy for one library or library consortium would not have an effect on patrons, even though this policy means that, in some cases, entire states will be allowed only one copy of a book for eight weeks after release: “Macmillan’s new licensing scheme will still allow libraries to obtain a digital copy of new books in the first eight weeks, so readers who can’t afford to buy books and who can’t get to the library to take out print copies should not be impacted.”  But, ultimately, the stance was simply about buying into the unsubstantiated claim that libraries hurt authors: “We look forward to seeing how this new program affects readership—and ultimately, authors’ royalties.”  (The Authors Guild later responded to backlash by asserting that they love and appreciate libraries.)

What Sargent’s argument fails to detail, however, is exactly which authors will benefit from an embargo.  Many readers do not actively follow the book market and do not know which authors publish with Macmillan or which titles are due for release.  They rely on browsing the library catalog to see what new books are available. If libraries chose to boycott Macmillan’s embargoed titles (and many have), patrons will simply never know if a Macmillan book was published, and they will go on to check out a different book from a different publisher.  Indeed, even if a library does not boycott the Macmillan titles, many library patrons will very likely see a year-long wait list for a book and check out a different book.  The main reason library patrons would likely chose to purchase an embargoed title is if they already know the author or had heard of a hotly-anticipated title.  In other words, the authors benefiting from the embargo will probably be bestselling authors–the authors who need a pay increase the least.

Meanwhile, midlist and debut authors publishing with Macmillan are more likely to be impacted negatively by the embargo because they will lack the free marketing done on their behalf by libraries.  Recent data indicates that bestsellers are now making up most of publishers’ sales and that publishers consequently put most of their marketing power behind those bestsellers.  Readers may only hear of some midlist books if they see them at the library.  To emphasize how important a role libraries play in marketing, Sari Feldman, former executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library writes that,

“At my former library…we recently calculated the value of the marketing support we provide for debut authors, using metrics such as website impressions, in-branch promotions, and comparable paid advertising. The total came to more than $10,000 in value, on average. And, we offer this support for free. That’s $10,000 in value is just for one library system in one metropolitan area.”

But, without the opportunity to see or check out debut or midlist titles, patrons will miss out on discovering new authors.  Readers who like to try out new authors through the library before purchasing will spend their money on other publishers whose books are available and marketed to them.  And research does suggest that readers discovering books through libraries helps sales.  For example, the Panorama Project reports that the April 2018 Big Library Read (an initiative in which an e-book is made available to all patrons of participating libraries through Overdrive, no wait lists) resulted in increased sales for the pick, Jennifer McGaha’s Flat Broke with Two Goats:

  • “818% growth in ebook sales from March to April, 2018.

  • 201% growth in print sales from March to April, 2018.

  • Sustained retail sales above pre-campaign (January–March 2018) volumes:

    • April–June 2018 ebook sales continued at 720% above pre-campaign volumes.

    • April–June 2018 print sales continued at 38% percent above pre-campaign volumes.”

Being readily available in the library catalog helped sales for this title, rather than hurting them.  Yet Macmillan is positioning libraries as the enemies of authors.

Libraries help readers discover new books that are worth reading, but not marketed heavily because they are not bestsellers.  The Macmillan embargo may encourage readers to buy new titles by big-name authors, but patrons are not likely going to purchase books they have never heard of and are not sure they will like.  Instead, patrons will probably simply check out a different e-book–and ultimately put their purchasing power behind titles that are not embargoed.

Why Should We Care about the Macmillan E-Book Embargo?

Why Care about the Macmillan Ebook Embargo

Starting in November 2019, Macmillan announced an embargo on all new e-book titles.  Libraries will be allowed to buy only one copy of new e-books for the first two months after release, no matter how large the library system or how many patrons it serves.  Only after the initial hype has died down will libraries be allowed to buy additional copies.  Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent argues that this step is necessary because libraries are decreasing e-book sales.  In essence, he is hoping that library patrons annoyed by long waits for e-books will buy the books instead.  (Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive, questions Macmillan’s assertion that libraries decrease e-book sales.)

This announcement has met with loud resistance from librarians, but has been generally overlooked by the public.  Macmillan’s new business model, however, has troubling implications–ones that could become more widespread should other publishers decide to follow its lead.

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Why Should WE Care about the macmillan e-book embargo? (Even If we don’t borrow library e-books)

The Macmillan e-book embargo negatively impacts the ability of libraries to serve their communities and provide equal access.  Even as libraries have evolved over their years, their core mission to provide access to materials, education, and information to everyone, regardless of income or socioeconomic background, has not changed.  The Macmillan e-book embargo prevents equal access by forcing people to pay for books; those without the means to do so will have to do without, or possibly wait months for the chance to read a popular new title.

The gap between the very wealthy and the very poor in the U.S. shows no immediate signs of narrowing.  Libraries are one of the remaining institutions in the U.S. that seek to reduce this gap.  Even if you do not personally need the library, even if you can choose to buy the e-books Macmillan withholds from libraries, libraries still benefit you. Creating equal access to resources and knowledge helps the community as a whole, enabling more people to graduate, more people to find employment, more people to learn a necessary language, and more people to seek help from other community organizations and resources. All these things create a better quality of life in a community and can possibly boost the local economy.   In short, supporting the library means lifting up the entire community.

The Macmillan e-book embargo may seem like a minor annoyance, an obnoxious way to frustrate library patrons into purchasing Macmillan’s titles instead of borrowing them.  However, the policy has long-term implications that threaten the mission of libraries to provide equal access.  Accepting this policy as our new reality means accepting that some will have to continue to do without.  Some will continue to be left behind.  Anyone who believes that social inequality must be eliminated should oppose Macmillan’s embargo, even if they have never checked out a library e-book.

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What Can You Do?

Contact Macmillan (Tweet, Email, Write!)

If you disagree with the Macmillan embargo, let them know!  You can reach out to them at Twitter, email them, or even send snail mail to their office.   The American Library Association (ALA) has all the ways you can contact Macmillan.  It’s important that library patrons, as well as library workers, speak up!

Blog about the Issue

Blogging is what bloggers do best, right?  Plenty of people may have missed the news about the Macmillan embargo, especially if they do not follow industry news. Get the word out to fellow bloggers and library lovers by letting them know!  The more we talk about this issue, the more Macmillan will understand that people are willing to protect equal access and to reject a business model that purposefully creates consumer frustration to drive sales. (We first blogged about the Macmillan e-book embargo in early August.)

Tell Everyone You Know in Real Life

Informing people about the issue means more people can voice their disagreement to Macmillan.  It also can help libraries, so patrons know that their frustration with long hold lists should not be taken out on librarians who wish they could buy more copies of titles, but cannot. Casual conversations about this issue may have more of an impact than you realize.  I mentioned the Macmillan embargo to two employees at my local library–neither had heard of it. General readers who do not follow industry news are even less likely to be aware of the issue.  So bring up the news with your friends, family, and colleagues!  You never know what action they might be inspired to take.

Boycott?

Perhaps the obvious strategy to informing companies that you disagree with their policies is to boycott them.  After all, money speaks. In this case, however, readers may be hesitant to boycott because such a move may also negatively impact authors and publishers.  So readers will have to decide for themselves if they think it ethical to boycott.  One solution, however, might be not to boycott the entire company, but instead to boycott only e-books, buying physical copies of books instead.

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander (ARC Review)

Library of Ever

Information

Goodreads: The Library of Ever
Series: None (yet?)
Source: Publisher giveaway
Publication Date: April 30, 2019

Official Summary

The Library of Ever is an instant classic for middle grade readers and booklovers everywhere—an adventure across time and space, as a young girl becomes a warrior for the forces of knowledge.

With her parents off traveling the globe, Lenora is bored, bored, bored—until she discovers a secret doorway into the ultimate library. Mazelike and reality-bending, the library contains all the universe’s wisdom. Every book ever written, and every fact ever known, can be found within its walls. And Lenora becomes its newly appointed Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian.

She rockets to the stars, travels to a future filled with robots, and faces down a dark nothingness that wants to destroy all knowledge. To save the library, Lenora will have to test her limits and uncover secrets hidden among its shelves.

An Imprint Book

Star Divider

Review

A vast library that contains all the knowledge of the world and that is under attack by people who want to destroy “dangerous” knowledge is a cool idea, but it’s also a very popular idea.  There are a large number of published books based on this premise, and I can’t even imagine how many more agents and editors are pitched each month.  Readers love libraries, and they like to write about libraries.  So I think the pressing question when reviewing The Library of Ever is: Why this story about the ultimate library?  What makes this take on the plot special and unique.  Frankly, I don’t know.  I don’t think it is particularly unique, so while the book is fine and will likely do well with its target audience of lower middle grade readers, I personally found it lackluster.

The book is a wild careening of strange and interesting events that occur to the protagonist Lenora the moment she finds herself in the magical Library of Ever.  The book is exactly the type of fantasy Krysta and I have both complained about as “lacking logic and realism,” as a variety of exciting things appear to happen simply because they are exciting and sound cool.  For example, the fact that Lenora is hired to work in the library in the first place, without any job application or proof of qualifications, then sent to work without training, then repeatedly promoted based on her completion of tasks in what are often, frankly, inefficient manners.  But, hey, it’s fun to read?  The author and publisher are probably right in guessing that the lack of logic isn’t going to bother the target audience, who are likely to think “Wow, robots! Ooh, giant ants!  Cool, spaceships!” and accept the story as it is .  But this isn’t a good that’s going to work as well with older readers, particularly adults.

This is true, too, of my other complaints–that the pacing is too fast and no event is well-developed and that the message about the importance of knowledge is incredibly heavy-handed.  If you’re a young reader or a reluctant reader, fast pacing and a crazy plot might not seem “under-developed” to you; it’s just going to keep you hooked. Also, the “knowledge as a light” thing might be legitimately new to you.  It’s not overdone or too in-your-face; it’s actually going to come across as profound and thought-provoking.

I didn’t like the book personally, and I don’t recommend it to older readers (even ones like me who generally enjoy middle grade), but I think it will work well for readers who are more into lower middle grade and chapter books.  The premise still seems cliche to me, but perhaps the “super cool library” thing is actually missing from the lower middle grade market, and the publisher wanted to fill that gap with a take on it.  I don’t think this is an “instant children’s classic,” as they claim, but, sure, kids will think it’s entertaining, and I guess I’ll figure out just how successful it is based on whether the publisher decides to make it a series.

3 Stars Briana

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies

Information

Goodreads: Archenemies
Series: Renegades #2
Source: Library
Published: November 6, 2018

Official Summary

Time is running out. Together, they can save the world. But are they each other’s worst nightmare?

Nova’s double life is about to get a lot more complicated:

As Insomnia, she is a full-fledged member of the Renegades, a syndicate of powerful and beloved superheroes. She works with Adrian’s patrol unit to protect the weak and maintain order in Gatlon City.

As Nightmare, she is an Anarchist—a group of villains who are determined to destroy the Renegades. Nova wants vengeance against the so-called heroes who once failed her when she needed them the most.

But as Nova, her feelings for Adrian are deepening, despite the fact that he is the son of her sworn enemies and, unbeknownst to Nova, he has some dangerous secrets of his own.

In this second installment of the Renegades trilogy, Nova, Adrian, and the rest of their crew—Ruby, Oscar, and Danna—are faced with escalating crime in Gatlon City, while covert weapons and conflicting missions have Nova and Adrian questioning not only their beliefs about justice but also the feelings they have for each other.

The line between good and evil has been blurred, but what’s clear to them both is that too much power could mean the end of their City—and the world—as they know it.

Star Divider

Review

When I reviewed Renegades, the first book of this series, I praised its nuanced exploration of what makes a hero vs. a villain and defended it against other reviewers’ criticisms that it was too slow and boring–so I am disappointed to report that my strongest impressions of Archenemies are 1) some of the nuance is lost and 2) it felt very long.  Overall, I still think Meyer is a talented writer, and this is still a strong book, but it doesn’t have quite the same magic and excitement as the first installment.

I believe Meyer is a more thoughtful writer than she often gets credit for, as readers tend to focus on the action of the plots and the swoon-worthy romances, so a series that features humans with superpowers and asks what the right or wrong ways to use those powers are is a series that plays to her strengths tackling complex questions.  I like the gray areas here, as the supposed “heroes” have a lot of flaws, and the supposed “villains” actually have some good points about how the world should be run.

However, Meyer loses some of the nuance in Nova’s characterization here. Nova is an Anarchist infiltrating the Renegades, and obviously the struggle is that she starts to see the good sides of the Renegades, the very people she used to think were so wrong that she had to overthrow them.  Unfortunately, Meyer does such a good job of depicting Nova’s growing empathy for the Renegades that I no longer saw her as an Anarchist, no longer thought there was any real mental conflict.  Nova’s supposed Anarchist leanings felt forced to me here, and drawing out this personal struggle over three books (when it was supposed to be two books) seems unnecessary.

Which brings me to the second point; the book is long, and it feels long.  I like to think I’m okay with “slow paced” books and don’t usually have a problem with them, but I struggled a bit here.  You wouldn’t think a book about superheroes could be a bit boring, but Anarchists is. Again, I think this could have been solved if Meyer stuck to the plan of writing two books.  When authors suddenly decide their series is going to be 600 pages longer than originally planned, good things don’t often follow. (Looking at you, Christopher Paolini…)

That said, I did enjoy the book. The world-building is detailed, and the characterization of the other Renegades is believable and detailed.  I was invested in the budding romances that a few of the characters had, and I loved the addition of a new Renegade with an understated power–investing others with a sense of wonder at the world.  Also: Max is amazing in this book.

So I’m still giving the book four stars.  I wanted to spend the bulk of the review explaining the two things I was disappointed in, but the reality is that the rest of the novel has a lot going for it.  Also,  I don’t think I need to really convince people to read or not read this installment because most readers will make that decision based on how much they liked the first book in the series, so I’d rather focus on discussion here.

What are your thoughts?

4 stars Briana

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery by P. G. Bell

Train to Impossible PlacesInformation

Goodreads: The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery
Series: not yet announced but likely The Train to Impossible Places #1
Source: Library
Published: October 2, 2018

Official Summary

A nonstop middle-grade fantasy adventure, The Train to Impossible Places by debut author P. G. Bell is as fun as it is full of heart, and the first book of a planned trilogy.

A train that travels through impossible places. A boy trapped in a snow globe. And a girl who’s about to go on the adventure of a lifetime.

The Impossible Postal Express is no ordinary train. It’s a troll-operated delivery service that runs everywhere from ocean-bottom shipwrecks, to Trollville, to space.

But when this impossible train comes roaring through Suzy’s living room, her world turns upside down. After sneaking on board, Suzy suddenly finds herself Deputy Post Master aboard the train, and faced with her first delivery―to the evil Lady Crepuscula.

Then, the package itself begs Suzy not to deliver him. A talking snow globe, Frederick has information Crepuscula could use to take over the entire Union of Impossible Places. But when protecting Frederick means putting her friends in danger, Suzy has to make a difficult choice―with the fate of the entire Union at stake.

Star Divider

Review

The Train to Impossible Places is one of those fabulous middle grade fantasies that combines a creative setting with an action-packed plot and beguiling characters.  From start to finish, it’s exactly the type of imaginative adventure I would have loved to read as a child, and one which I enjoyed today as an adult.

The premise is exciting: a magical train stops in Suzy’s living room; she hops on, becomes a deputized postal worker, and travels to a variety of magical places.  She might even have a chance to save the world!  However, I complain a lot about “good premise but bad execution” on the blog, so the truly important point here is that this exciting adventure is well-paced and well-written.  I read the book in a day because I just couldn’t wait to find out what magical place the train would go next or what would happen next in the plot.

The characters are also well-written because there’s a variety of them, and they are all multi-faceted.  Suzy’s boss is an eager young troll who wants to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps and deliver the mail properly, and it’s easy to like him, but some of the characters are pompous or downright curmudgeonly,  and it can take a while to see their good qualities and warm up to them. Suzy herself is a bit of a gray character simply because she knows she’s doing things that might be a bit wrong but thinks doing them will serve her ultimate purposes for good.

Among all this are themes of industrialization vs. craftsmanship, proper use of knowledge, proper use of power, reasons for doing the right thing, and a few other questions that are delightfully important and complex.  The exploration of these themes help turn the book from just a fun story into one worth discussing and remembering.

If you love fantasy, trains, good stories, or just good middle grade, check out The Cursed Delivery.

4 stars Briana