Shuna’s Journey by Hayao Miyazaki, Trans. by Alex Dudok de Wit

Shuna's Journey Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsShuna’s Journey
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1983; Translation 2022

Official Summary

From legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki comes a new manga classic about a prince on a quest for a golden grain that would save his land, never before published in English!

Shuna, the prince of a poor land, watches in despair as his people work themselves to death harvesting the little grain that grows there. And so, when a traveler presents him with a sample of seeds from a mysterious western land, he sets out to find the source of the golden grain, dreaming of a better life for his subjects.

It is not long before he meets a proud girl named Thea. After freeing her from captivity, he is pursued by her enemies, and while Thea escapes north, Shuna continues toward the west, finally reaching the Land of the God-Folk.

Will Shuna ever see Thea again? And will he make it back home from his quest for the golden grain?

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Review

Two years before Studio Ghibli was founded, Hayao Miyazaki’s book Shuna’s Journey was released. Based on a Tibetan folktale, it follows Prince Shuna as he leaves his famine-stricken land to search for a fabled golden grain that can save his people. The trademarks of Miyazaki are all here–the epic scope, the flawed hero, the strong and determined heroine, and the beautiful artwork. Fans of Miyazaki will not want to miss out on another compelling story from the master storyteller!

Perhaps what intrigued me most about Shuna’s Journey was the sense of ambiguity it has. As with many of Miyazaki’s stories, much of the storytelling is actually left to the reader. Shuna travels across strange lands and encounters people both cruel and kind, but often what exactly is happening is never explained. Why do the city dwellers want to capture Shuna? What are the green giants? Are the gods still there? And, if so, are they good? Only the reader can decide.

The storytelling also does not fear to go its own way. Many stories on the market today seem similar to the point of being formulaic, but Miyazaki’s tale does not follow convention. If he wants to follow Shuna for most of the book, only to switch to another character’s perspective towards the end, he will! If he wants to upend the traditional way of fairy tales, he will do that, too. It is always pleasure to read something that feels original, and Miyazaki always delivers with his own unique vision.

Miyazaki fans will definitely want to check this one. The gorgeous water color artwork, especially the landscapes, are evocative, as always. And the story, strange and mysterious, is compelling, as always. This is a book that is more of an experience than a book.

4 stars

Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater

Greywaren Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsGreywaren
Series: Dreamer Trilogy #3
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Official Summary

This is the story of the Lynch family.

Niall and Mór escaped their homeland for a new start, and lost themselves in what they found.

Declan has grown up as the responsible son, the responsible brother–only to find there is no way for him to keep his family safe.

Ronan has always lived on the edge between dreams and waking… but now that edge is gone, and he is falling.

Matthew has been the happy child, the brightest beam. But rebellion beckons, because it all feels like an illusion now.

This world was not made for such a family–a family with the power to make a world and break it. If they cannot save each other or themselves, we are all doomed.

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Review

Potential spoilers for the book below!

I have mixed feelings about Greywaren. While Call Down the Hawk and Mister Impossible blew me away with the sheer inventiveness of the worldbuilding, and the stakes of the drama, Greywaren meanders a bit though a futile attempt to give page time to its large ensemble cast, before devolving into a too-easy conclusion that makes the former two books feel irrelevant, and that fails to give readers much closure. I wanted to love Greywaren as much as I have loved the Raven Cycle and the first two books in the Dreamers Cycle, but I admit I closed the final pages feeling perplexed. The complexity and originality I have come to expect from Stiefvater do not seem fully there.

While many readers struggled to connect with some of the characters, or found themselves disappointed by an ensemble cast instead of a full focus on Ronan Lynch, I always greatly enjoyed all the characters and the chapters from their perspectives. Hennessy and Jordan fascinated me. Carmen seemed to have great potential as a do-gooder clearly working for the wrong side. Declan easily became my favorite, as he finally got the chance to tell his story and was not simply the villain in Ronan’s. And lovable Matthew grew in the telling, finally shedding some of his naivete as he was forced to reckon with reality. All of them were great. I was even vaguely intrigued about what role Adam would play in this saga, and if the Crying Club would become relevant. So I was left wondering why half the threads in the previous books seemed dropped. I was even left wondering why the threads in this book were dropped.

In the end, it seems like maybe too much was going on for Stiefvater to deal with it all, but that seems strange given her prior books. But I was left baffled that Adam basically disappeared from the narrative, after getting a set-up that seemed to suggest his scrying would play a prominent role in Ronan’s mission. The Crying Club was never relevant at all. Matthew was set up to do something remarkable, but didn’t. And then all the characters acted completely out of character just so things could wrap up neatly. Rebels become domesticated. People die so other people can end up together, even though they don’t make sense together. Even the characters from the Raven Cycle appear, ostensibly for Declan, even though they are Ronan’s friends and not Declan’s at all? I understand the desire to give readers closure by neatly pairing everyone off and making everyone seem happy, but this is not the way.

And the ending of the book just kind of makes the whole dilemma of the first two books…disappear. I thought interesting concepts were at play. How can dreamers survive in a world that is not built for them? Should they continue to fight the nightwash, or should Ronan awaken the ley lines? If Ronan does awaken the lines, what other horrors could occur if the dreams become too powerful to control? Just because no current dreamers have thought to dream something monstrous and world destroying does not mean no one could. What if that happens? What is the plan? Well…none of that matters, anymore, dear readers! Apparently Ronan is just going to toss the whole ley line idea because, well, I’m not sure. Yeah, Bryde is gone, but the problem isn’t. Essentially, this book says, Ronan went on this entire journey to figure out who Bryde is and to awaken the ley lines just to decide he doesn’t need to because he had some personal growth instead and he doesn’t really care anymore. Or something.

The book is not a complete letdown because I still love the characters and the world Stiefvater has created. However, it does seem clear that Stiefvater struggled with the ending. I was in awe with the complexity and imagination of the first two books in the series, but it all comes crashing down here, with the book not sure where to go with all the big ideas that were raised.

3 Stars

Cursed by Marissa Meyer

Cursed by Marissa Meyer

Information

GoodreadsCursed
Series: Gilded #2
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Official Summary

Before the Endless Moon, when the Erlking means to capture one of the seven gods and make a wish to return his lover, Perchta, from the underworld, Serilda and Gild attempt to break the curses that tether their spirits to Adalheid’s haunted castle. But it soon becomes clear that the Erlking’s hunger for vengeance won’t be satisfied with a single wish, and his true intentions have the power to alter the mortal realm forever. Serilda and Gild must try to thwart his wicked plans, all while solving the mystery of Gild’s forgotten name, freeing the ghosts kept in servitude to the dark ones, and trying to protect their unborn child.

Romance, danger, and Serilda’s journey to find her power as a woman, a mother, and a storyteller make this reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin one that Meyer fans—old and new—will treasure.

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Review

Marissa Meyer has done it again! The sequel to Gilded brings readers on a breathtaking journey full of romance, mystery, suspense, and danger–one fans will find difficult to put down. The atmospheric worldbuilding and the intertwining of folklore and fantasy will draw readers in. But the empathetic characters and the high stakes they face will capture readers entirely. A must-read for fans of YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings!

Gilded ended on a dramatic cliffhanger, so I was only too eager to see where Meyer would take the story next. I loved that the narrative did not keep the characters safe, but repeatedly put them in untenable situations. The Erlking and his court are meant to be monsters, and it was imperative for the integrity of the story for this to be true. Fairy tales such as this are meant to be dark, meant to show that humans can persevere beyond all reasoning. And, maybe, just maybe, triumph. But that question of whether triumph is even possible anymore is the part that makes this story so gripping.

I also really loved that Serilda is a mother in this story. Motherhood is not often explored in YA books, even though it is a part of life and even something some teens might experience. Granted, I felt at times that Serilda read more like a young twenty-something than a teen, but readers do not need to only read books with protagonists exactly their age. And the motherhood element made this book feel more unique, as well as adding higher stakes to Serilda’s struggle for freedom.

Cursed is that rare thing, a sequel that lives up to its predecessor. More mythology, more intrigue, and more romance all come together to create an unputdownable read that will leave readers wishing for more. Fans of Meyer’s will not want to miss out on this stunning conclusion to the duology!

5 stars

Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe by Neal Shusterman (and Co-authors)

Information

Goodreads: Gleanings
Series: Arc of a Scythe #4
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: November 8, 2022

Official Summary

The New York Times bestselling Arc of the Scythe series continues with thrilling stories that span the timeline. Storylines continue. Origin stories are revealed. And new Scythes emerge!

There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

Neal Shusterman—along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman—returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

Gleanings shows just how expansive, terrifying, and thrilling the world that began with the Printz Honor–winning Scythe truly is.

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Review

If anyone had asked me if a short story collection set in the world of Arc of a Scythe could live up to the original trilogy, with its complex characters, twisty plot, and thought-provoking questions about what it means to be human, I would have said no. And I would have been completely wrong. Gleanings sweeps readers back into the post-mortal world as if no time has been lost between book 3 and book 4, and I was riveted by nearly every page.

The Arc of a Scythe is immersive because looks unflinchingly at what it would mean for humans to “conquer death” — and really any unpleasantness, from pain to crime. No facet is left unexplored, from the effect this would have on the creation of art to the question of free will and the ethics of having an AI run the world. There are also, of course, the scythes, who do deal out death, having a power perhaps no one should have. Much of the book is about how such a community would play out, if it could stay true to its ideals.

And Gleanings goes right back into this. Some of the questions are the same that are explored in the original trilogy, but the angles and the answers feel new. After all, is there really a definitive answer to the question of, “Can art exist without pain?” What even is art? What counts as pain? Must fear of death be involved? And fear of death isn’t even completely gone because of the scythes. This book made me stop and think, and it made me feel, and it was wonderful.

It’s also at times humorous, which is great when you have a book called Gleanings where, you know, people are gleaned (coughkilledcough). Some of the scythes manage to be ridiculous or get themselves into ridiculous situations, which helps put in perspective that they are still human, no matter the power they have been given.

The only two stories I found disappointing were about Scythe Marie Curie, which is odd considering she’s such a striking character in the first three books, and these stories should have been marvelous gifts to fans who would like to see more about her. I felt the first had very little conflict/movement, and an event that should have been interesting simply fell flat. The second one will help tie up loose ends for fans, but also didn’t feel like much of an actual story.

You do need to have read the first three books to understand this book. I struggled a bit even though I have, and I think it’d be best enjoyed for people who have a fresh memory of the rest of the stories. Definitely one of my top reads of 2022 (though I posted my favorite YA books of 2022 list before I read this. Oops.).

Briana
5 stars

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 5: Lost in the Plot by Christopher Hastings, et al

Gwenpool 5

Information

GoodreadsThe Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 5
Series: Unbelievable Gwenpool #5
Age Category: Young Adult/Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Summary

Now that she has the ability to step out of her own comic, Gwen has realized that her run is coming to an end. But she has a plan. All she has to do is stop one of Marvel’s biggest baddies, and join the Avengers! She would never be cancelled if she were an Avenger! If only it were that easy…

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Review

Gwenpool’s run comes to a heartbreaking end as Gwen realizes that her remaining issues are numbered. Initially, she attempts to convince the writers to keep her–first by planning to defeat Doctor Doom and become a member of the Avengers, and then by planning to become a villain. Ultimately, however, Gwen has to accept that only a few pages remain, and choose what she wants to do with them. While this final volume is not quite as meta as I had hoped after the last issue, it still features Gwen using her new powers in cool and innovative ways. And it brings out all the best, emotional parts of Gwen that made me ultimately love her as a character. I know that Gwenpool has made subsequent appearances in other comics, and I want to see her again!

Gwenpool started out as a destructive antihero, a girl from the real world who thought she could use the Marvel universe as her playground. The initial issues used this framework to create a charming and genuinely funny story–one where a teenager without any powers tried to use her extensive knowledge of comics to become a superhero. In the process, her comics interrogated the conventions of comics (often in a knowingly self-referential way), how readers respond to them, and how fiction and reality can intertwine. While Gwen gleefully mowed down characters in mass killing sprees, I found myself appalled by her actions. She figured it didn’t matter because they were just “extras” in a book. I saw her actions as morally horrific, even knowing she was in a book. Did Gwen’s actions matter? Why do I feel that they do?

All this culminated in Gwen learning how to shape the reality of the comic book world around her. Watching her reach out of the panel the first time was amazing! It became clear then that Gwenpool was not just going to be a fun little love letter to comics fans, one where Gwen called out the conventions of the genre and tried to use them to her advantage. Instead, Gwenpool become increasingly meta and increasingly innovative. I was genuinely excited to see where this would take Gwen next.

Of course, it took her to this, the final volume. And Gwen knows it’s the final volume! The emotional impact of this is extreme. Yes, it is funny to see Gwen attempt to defeat Doctor Doom, and then team up with Batroc one more time. And it is fun to see Gwen use her new powers to escape enemies and attempt to pull off heists. But readers know just as well as Gwen that time is running out, and that these fun adventures are the last. Even knowing, as Gwen must know, that superheroes never die forever, and that a reboot or a cameo must be in the future, the heartache is real. Because this is the end of this iteration as we knew her. As a girl who lost her way, and then found herself again. And who lived the joy of comics the whole time.

Volumes 2 and 3 were, for me, the weakest of the five. But the first volume, along with the final two in this run, really make the series worth reading as a whole. Gwenpool is an amazingly original character, one whose stories are, by turns, funny, heartwarming, and heartrending. What a fantastic addition to the Marvel line-up! I really hope we see a lot more of Gwenpool!

4 stars

All That It Ever Meant by Blessing Musariri (ARC Review)

All That It Ever Meant

Information

GoodreadsAll That It Ever Meant
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: ARC from Publisher
Expected Publication: January 3, 2023

Official Summary

Mati’s family is reeling from the death of Mati’s mother. Her Baba has drawn into himself, her sister Chichi is rebelling, and her young brother Tana is desperate for love and normalcy.

When Chichi pulls her worst stunt yet, Baba uproots the family from their home in England for an extended camping holiday in their native Zimbabwe. Along for the trip is Meticais, a fabulously attired gender-neutral spirit—or ghost? or imaginary friend?—who only Mati can see and converse with.

Guided by Meticais’s enigmatic advice and wisdom, Mati must come to terms with her grief and with the difficulty of living between two cultures, while the family must learn to forge their way in a world without their monumental mother.

Full of captivating characters and stunning plot twists, All That It Ever Meant delivers a nuanced and unforgettable story of grief, love, and family.

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Review

I will be the first to admit that this genre is not quite the right fit for me.  In general, even when I can tell that a book is sensitively written and that it is trying to convey deep thoughts, I do not enjoy reading a story that centers primarily around a person processing grief.  I do not mind a character-driven story, well told, but this particular type–the sad protagonist telling their story because only by confronting what happened can they move on–is not my favorite, even though I know it is an important type of story and likely resonates with many readers.  So I would recommend this one to the readers who like what I have heard called “sad girl stories,” or stories that are told non-linearly because the journey is considered more important than the destination..    

In All It Ever Meant, the first person narrator Mati takes a roundabout route to explain the aftermath of her mother’s death and what it means for her family.  Readers are supposed to be hooked because Mati does not come straight out and say what happened, but instead leaves tantalizing clues about fights that happened, notes that were left, etc. before moving on to a different part of the timeline.  An unknown presence, a gender-neutral spirit or ghost or something called Metacais, is also meant to add to the drama.  Who are they? Where did they come from? Why are they there?  Is it bad to say I did not really care who Metacais is? I thought they were largely unnecessary to what the book in general is doing with Mati’s processing of grief, and they really did just seem like one of those things an author adds to put a spin on a common enough story or theme.

For me, the highlights were Mati’s observations of Zimbabwe.  For most of the story, Mati declines to talk about herself directly or to acknowledge her role in her family and their drama.  But readers can piece together some aspects of Mati’s personality from her observations about other people, as well as her thoughts on visiting Zimbabwe.  Mati does discuss the feeling of not always fitting in, her family caught between Zimbabwe and England.  But she clearly loves Zimbabwe!  Or, at least many parts of it.  And it feels like an honor to go on a trip through the country with her and her family, seeing it through her eyes.

Blessing Musariri can also turn a phrase, and, through Mati, gives some observations about love, life, family, identity, and grief that I think many readers–especially teen readers–will find powerful and resonant.  Not everything Mati says is as profound as I think she thinks it is–but she does periodically really find a way to describe something in a way that will make readers pick it up and look at it anew.  I imagine this book will speak to many readers in particular who are in the process of figuring out who they are and what they want from life.

This particular genre and story is again, not really for me.  I did not find myself gripped by Mati’s evasive storytelling.  And I was unimpressed by the final reveal of what had really happened because, well, it is not that original!  But the narrative voice is original and seeing the world through Mati’s eyes is compelling.  Pick this one up if you like books that explore grief after the death of a loved one.

3 Stars

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 4: Beyond the Fourth Wall by Christopher Hastings & Gurihiru

Gwenpool Volume 4

Information

GoodreadsThe Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 4
Series: Unbelievable Gwenpool #4
Age Category: Young Adult/Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Summary

Gwen Poole’s origin story is revealed in the fourth volume of The Unbelievable Gwenpool. But, wait! There are those who want to see Gwen returned to the “real” world before she can destroy the Marvel Universe. And Gwen is not about to go quietly.

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The fourth volume of The Unbelievable Gwenpool brings back all the elements that make Gwenpool great–and brings the series to the next level! As a superhero team seeks to return Gwen to the real world, so she cannot turn into a future villain, Gwen discovers that her knowledge that she is in a comic gives her more than insider info on her fellow characters. It allows her to manipulate the comic itself! The sheer inventiveness of this installment, along with Gwen’s character development, make Volume 4 a delight to read. I cannot wait to see what new adventures Gwen will have!

The key to Gwenpool’s appeal lies largely in how meta her comic is, and I was pleased to see that this new installment really chooses to lean into that. Previous storylines featured Gwen using her knowledge of the Marvel comics to probe characters’ weaknesses or try to get herself invited to a superhero team-up. And it was funny! Especially to comics fans who know all the references Gwen does. However, volume four has Gwen going beyond fun allusions to potential comics-world domination, all thanks to her ability to use her knowledge to change the very comic she is in.

I cannot stress enough how amazingly inventive Gwenpool feels in this volume. Her powers progress from simple character knowledge to the ability to shape reality. Gwen manages to step outside of the panels. She can see the comic she is in! She can enter the gutters. She can view the past, and the future. Wow! This is exactly what I want from a character able to break the fourth wall! And the art! Gurihiru take these plot developments and get creative. The illustrations are just as ingenious as the story.

But it’s not all flashy art and superpowers. Gwen really faces her herself in this comic. She sees herself how others see her–not as a superhero, but as a girl who has callously mown down dozens upon dozens of people because she thinks of them as “extras” and not as a real people. And she has to choose if she wants to continue down that path. If she wants to one day really become the villain. I honestly was not expecting Gwen to have as much maturity and growth as she did–especially when readers learn her origin story (which is not particularly flattering). This is the comic where I really, truly got to root for Gwen and not feel conflicted.

Too bad this is the fourth volume in a five-volume run. Is this the end for Gwenpool? And, of course, if it is, how will Gwen herself feel about it?! This is a refreshingly original volume that brilliantly sets up a future storyline sure to tug at the heartstrings. Time to dive into volume five!

5 stars

The 10 Best YA Books I Read in 2022

10 Best YA Books of 2022

I didn’t get to read as much in 2022 as I have in some previous years, but I still read a number of books that were fantastic! Here is my 2022 list for my favorite young adult books of the year. Books are listed in alphabetical order by author last name, and they are books I personally read in 2022, not necessarily published in 2022.

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1

Flowerheart by Catherine Bakewell

If you want a lighter fantasy that will draw you in and have you cheering for the main character’s success at every turn, while making you feel right at home, Flowerheart may be for you.

2
Blood and Moonlight book cover

Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty

Blood and Moonlight combines medieval architecture, a murder mystery, and fantasy to create a compelling story unique in the YA scene. Multi-faceted characters kept me riveted to the pages, as they attempted to get into the mind of a serial killer and stop him before his victims pile even higher.

How to Succeed in Witchcraft book cover

How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy

How to Succeed in Witchcraft is a creative and moving story that brings readers to a world that functions very similarly to ours–except it’s magic! Protagonist Shay Johnson faces the same pressures as many high schoolers, taking a full load of AP courses in subjects like Potions and Transfiguration and competing hard for a free-ride scholarship to a magical licensing college. Author Aislinn Brophy seamlessly blends her rich magical world building with these real world concerns, creating a story that is sure to stick in readers’ minds after the last page is turned.

four
Ballad of Never After book cover

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber

I wrote in my review of Once Upon a Broken Heart that Stephanie Garber had blown me away with a fairy tale world that felt fresh and new and, of course, rather dangerous and with a romance that had my eyes glued to the page. And there is so sequel slump here. The Ballad of Never After continues Evangeline’s story with immersive writing and a story I could hardly put down, and now I’m dying to read the third book.

Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer

If you enjoyed the Cursebreakers trilogy, you will certainly love this continuation. If you were on the fence, I think it’s worth picking this up and giving Kemmerer another shot, as her writing only continues to improve.

A Darkness at the Door by Intisar Khanani

Intisar Khanani has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I fell in love with her storytelling after reading Thorn (a “Goose Girl” retelling), and The Theft of Sunlight was one of my top reads of 2021. I couldn’t wait to continue reading Rae’s tale in A Darkness at the Door, since The Theft of Sunlight ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I was not disappointed. Action, adventure, a bit of magic, a bit of mystery, romance . . . this book has it all, and it’s all led by Rae with her will of iron and a sense of morality she will not have stamped down.

7

The Dragon’s Promise by Elizabeth Lim

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Lim’s work since I read Spin the Dawn, and as a sequel to Six Crimson CranesThe Dragon’s Promise did not disappoint. It has action, adventure, vivid world building, and the strong family ties readers first saw in book one when Shiori committed herself to saving her brothers from a life as cranes.

eight
The Drowned Woods book cover

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Every so often I am blessed to read a book that is nearly everything I could want in a YA fantasy. With compelling characters, a fast-paced plot, a vividly imagined world and a corgi sidekick, The Drowned Woods delivers an enchanting reading experience. I finished this book in two days after a minor reading slump, and I’d be happy to check out more of the author’s work in the future.

nine
Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove book cover

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrota

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is a fast-paced epic fantasy that brings readers into a world of magic and monsters (some of whom are closer to home than protagonist Katyani might like). With lush world building and thoughtful questions about what makes a family and identity, this one is sure to be a hit with fantasy fans.

ten
Hotel Magnifique book cover

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor

Hotel Magnifique is a riveting fantasy that takes readers on a journey with protagonist Jani as she snares a coveted position working in the world’s most (okay, only) magical hotel — and slowly begins to realize things might not be as glamorous as they seem. The lush world building, dazzling magic, sense of mystery, and strong family ties makes this a story very worth reading.

Briana

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 3: Totally in Continuity by Christopher Hastings, et al

Information

GoodreadsThe Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 3
Series: Unbelievable Gwenpool #3
Age Category: Young Adult/Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Gwenpool, the girl from the “real” world stuck in the Marvel universe, is back! This time, she takes on a vampire to save a small town, finds herself trapped in an RPG created by Arcade, and saves Christmas.

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Review

The third volume of the Unbelievable Gwenpool proves the weakest in the series yet. Gwen goes on some unrelated adventures, including trying to kill a vampire and getting stuck in a fantasy RPG. The creators then make readers suffer through an excruciating holiday special. The RPG segment is probably the best part, as it works with Gwen’s strengths–that she can break the fourth wall–and has her meet Deadpool. The holiday special, however, is probably the worst way to end the volume, as it will be readers’ final impressions of a frankly bizarre compilation. This installment is very uneven and features less character development for Gwen than I had hoped. But there are only two more volumes left in this run, so I plan to read to the end, regardless.

Typically, these volumes follow a format in which five issues are combined and those five issues contain an arc–a more-or-less contained storyline that is wrapped up by the end (maybe with a little cliffhanger to tease the next adventure). So reviewing volume three feels perplexing. There are really several different storylines here, and some work while others don’t. The vampire storyline, for instance, is pretty interesting and very humorous, though I was disappointed that the ending was more of a joke than a real conclusion. The second storyline plays to Gwen’s strengths as it features Arcade trapping her in a fantasy RPF with her old M.O.D.O.K. team–and Gwen, of course, knows all about RPRs and how they work, leading her to try to game the system. The holiday special is a mish-mash of unrelated shorts that are so cringeworthy I can barely stand to write about them. Basically, the holidays are wrong, Santa is missing, and an evil villain is trying to make everyone buy hot pants to celebrate Pantsgiving. Different writers and artists work on each short, so they are barely connected and some are much worse than others. Just, no. I wish I could erase the holiday special from my mind.

What I really wanted from volume three was more character development for Gwenpool. Right now, she is sort of functioning as an antihero, but I really wanted to see her question her role in the Marvel Universe and what she hopes to accomplish by regularly engaging in mass slaughters. She wants to be the hero, but tends to act like a villain. Volume two set her up for some self-reflection when she got pouty that Miles Morales does not approve of her violence. But volume three largely sets these concerns aside for the moment. It feels like a filler volume.

However, as I said, this run is only five volumes and the end is in sight. Even though I didn’t really enjoy volume three, I can rest content knowing that I don’t have to commit to Gwenpool forever if I want to see where her storyline goes. In the meantime, I hope this was just an aberration in terms of content and quality, and that the final volumes will bring back more of what I love about Gwenpool.

3 Stars

The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 2: Head of M.O.D.O.K by Christopher Hastings, et al

Unbelievable Gwenpool Vol. 2

Information

GoodreadsThe Unbelievable Gwenpool, Vol. 2
Series: Unbelievable Gwenpool #2
Age Category: Young Adult/Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Gwen Poole somehow found herself transferred from the real world into the world of the Marvel comics, and she is determined to make the most of it. So she donned a costume and is now the superhero Gwenpool. At least, that was the idea. Gwen has no superhero powers and no combat training. Currently, she is stuck being a henchman for M.O.D.O.K. unless she wants to be disintegrated. How did everything go so wrong?

Star Divider

Review

Though I enjoyed the first volume of Gwenpool both for its dark humor and its subtle commentary on the nature of heroism, the second volume seems to have lost its way. The plotline is confused and messy, and so is the messaging. Gwen still ardently believes she is the hero, but she continues to solve all her problems with explosions and guns, indicating that she has learned nothing since her entrance into the world of Marvel comics. One hopes that this is just the beginning of her character arc, but the overall feeling of the comic is merely bleak.

The plot and pacing feel a bit messy, with the overall storyline following Gwen as she is forced to work as a henchman for M.O.D.O.K., and a secondary one featuring Miles Morales apparently just so Gwen can get a cool superhero team-up. Unfortunately, however, Gwen’s strategy for being the “good guy” has not progressed from the tactic of shooting everyone up, no questions asked. Her decision to bust into a teenage boy’s room with a bunch of firepower is far from funny–more like seriously scary and alarming. It also, of course, gives Spider-Man serious reservations about Gwenpool. Gwen, however, still learns nothing from this encounter, choosing only to pout that her meeting with Spider-Man did not go as planned.

Gwen is a very self-centered character (so I guess it makes sense she assumes herself to be the protagonist of her own comic series), but that also makes it hard at times to root for her. The other people in her live constantly offer her advice and direction that she rejects. And she still fails to treat them like real people with real feelings. Her “best friend” Cecil, for instance, is having trouble coping with the way that Gwen has completely ruined his life, but all she does is tell him to move on and enjoy being her sidekick.

I’m not sure if Gwen is intentionally being written as a psychopath, but I found at times that I was tired of waiting for her to have any sort of character arc because she so often comes across as repulsively selfish. I do think the writers have been setting her up as somehow broken, but, until her backstory is revealed, my sympathy is waning. Even people who have troubled relationships with their parents don’t get a free pass to go around blowing everything up.

There were a few moments of lighter humor in the story, so I will continue reading in the hopes of Gwen achieving some sort of growth and of finding more funny moments in the future. But volume two does feel like a let-down after the first volume.

3 Stars