The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May

“At moments like this, I appreciate how the weather in Scotland is never the same, and how swiftly it changes. How the rain itself seems to breathe, soft and slow.”

The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May
Release Date:  June 13, 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Format: e-ARC
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Ratings: Page Turner Gut Punch badass

Full disclosure: I adore Scotland so that setting alone will attract me to a book. I had downloaded the first of Elizabeth May’s Falconer series to my Kindle some time ago, but then didn’t read it until I was IN Scotland last summer. I thought the first book was fun and moved onto the second one, which was even better. I grew to love the main character, Aileana, a fierce fae-slayer. As it always is with final books in a series, I (electronically) opened the final installment of the trilogy, “The Fallen Kingdom,” with: a little bit of sadness that I’d have to say goodbye to all the characters by the end; a tiny amount of worry I might hate it; and, of course, tons of excitement. The final verdict? My heart is a little shattered in the best kind of way.

My Thoughts
What interested me in this series to start with, aside from the whole Scotland thing, is how it pulls from dark mythology of the fae/fairies. The “girl falls for immortal creature that can kill her, but he’s more complex that” story has been told many times before, usually in a vampire fashion, but May layers her story with a fascinating history that makes it unique. So while tropes I’m bored of were present in the beginning of the series, it didn’t keep me from reading on. The stakes get higher and higher and the line between “good” and “evil” is tremendously blurry. It’s made the journey of the trilogy exciting instead of cliched.

And this last book? PHEW. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s even darker than the first two. Yes, it’s possible for it to get darker. [Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read the first two. You can skip to Positives/Negatives]

At the end of the second book, Aileana is in a bit of a pickle. She was a. tortured and then b. murdered and c. the world is also ending. Three things that are rather difficult to overcome. Plus she’s having a complicated love life. Still. The reader is not spared the ugly details of this all. The result is a story that makes you wish you could read even faster. I also felt like my heart was being stabbed a few times, but it’s fine. I survived better than some of the people in the story.

On a more serious note, something I appreciate about this book is how it shows the damage that Lonnrach’s torture had on Aileana. She didn’t walk out of that room of mirrors mentally unscathed. She is brave and she is strong, but what was done to her isn’t something any human can just “overcome.” As I’m not a psychologist, I hesitate to diagnose even an imaginary person, but what happens to her closely resembles PSTD. I find it extremely important that when a character goes through the type of trauma that often happens in fantasy novels, that the emotional and mental result is shown. Aileana is a testament to the fact that some things are too horrible to completely recover from. When it comes to a book for teenagers, this is an important lessen. No matter how strong you are, you can still hurt. Trauma can cause a mental illness that can make things horrible. But you can still keeping going. You can still fight. You can still be the badass heroine.

Positive/Negatives
+Everything about how Aileana’s internal struggles were handled
+Secondary characters had even more development in this book
+ACTION/horror
+It pulls at your heart strings
-The whole immortal love interest still bothers me a little but to balance it out, May did a tremendous job handling that particular trope
-I felt like maybe there could have been a little bit more

In Summary
“The Fallen Kingdom” is an excellent finale to the trilogy. It’s fast paced and terrifying at moments. The ending is satisfying. And while all the literal fighting is happening, the internal battles are even more riveting. I think most fans of the series will be happy with the conclusion.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.

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Interview with a Snarky/Cynical 16 Year Old

I happen to live with a teenaged sister who loves to read. While our tastes in books often overlap, she’s a bit more critical than I am. Which often means I lend her a YA book and she hates it. An opposing view can be a good/amusing thing so I invited her to do some future posts with me. As a way of an introduction, I did an “interview” with her. So, meet Barbara, a girl who rarely answers any questions completely seriously.

What kind of books do you most like to read?
Um, I don’t know. I just don’t fucking know, dude. Oh, well, comic books. I guess.

What is the best book you’ve read recently?
Maus. The n*zi thing. That’s the only thing I can remember.

[Anna’s Note: Babs says she feels like calling it “the n*zi thing” was insensitive. Actually her exact words in the email were “also now that i looked at it reducing maus to a nazi thing seems pretty insenstivie fuk.” (She demanded she read how I transcribed things before I posted it.)]

What was the worst book you’ve read recently?
Huckleberry Finn. The Adventures of. Which I didn’t really read. I sort of read it.

Do you have a favorite author?
God is the author of my heart.

[She laughed after this and made me take it out because she didn’t want people to know she was laughing, but I’m just putting it in this note instead.]

For real though…
I don’t know any authors. Maybe like….. I don’t think I’ve consistently read one author in my life.

What is your biggest book pet peeve?
Hmm. There’s a lot. Love triangles. When they don’t describe things like setting or anything like that. You know? It’s just not good. Just books in general.

Do you have a favorite character?
I guess Laika, the first dog to go to space.

She technically doesn’t count because she’s real.
No, she counts. She’s still a character… I can’t think of any characters I like. I can’t really think of any books I like. I don’t remember the past three years of my life.

[I originally called Laika a “he” which she yelled at me for, so I fixed it. Then I got yelled out via email for editing my mistake. “also you called laika a he dont fuckin deny it.”]

What’s a book you are excited to come out?
The next “Shadowshaper” book.

[One of the rare occasions where we both loved the same YA book. Good job, Daniel José Older, you won over a cynical af teen.]

What do you like most about “Shadowshaper?”
Just like the overall concept, I guess. I don’t know. She’s just like “yeah I fucking paint stuff.” That’s nice I guess.

[This is called being purposefully difficult.]

Actually I want you to make my favorite author, Jesse Moynihan. And my favorite character, Serapis. It’s in Moynihan’s comic “Forming.”

Do you have a favorite book trope?
Give examples. There’s a lot of tropes. There’s a dictionary of tropes.

I don’t know. Just anything you like in books.
I like when.. I like bugs. Any mention of bugs. At any point. At any time. It makes me happy. And hopeful, you know?

Has any book other than The Book Thief made you cry?
That’s very personal. I don’t think so. Anna, I don’t want people to know I cried at The Book Thief.

[I didn’t put this in without her permission. She accepted it after.]

What do you think about my taste in books?
I think your taste in books and media in general is bad. And I don’t think people reading your reviews should trust you.

I want to change my favorite trope. I like when there is character development. And bugs.

That’s not a trope.
I don’t give a shit.

What is your favorite nonfiction book?
The Poop Book.

I’m not putting that in.

I’m serious. It’s actually informative. And don’t edit my words.

Any final thoughts?
Shout out to Persepolis, even though everyone knows about it, I want to give it a little shout out. Shout out to my fans. Shout out to my family and friends. Shout out to bugs. Don’t step on bugs. And if you hear someone screaming, call 911 and don’t listen to your family. [Apparently she heard someone screaming earlier.] Don’t treat OCD like it’s a cute habit where you just like to organize things. It’s a serious illness. Just chill the fuck out. Who cares? That’s it.

 

And there you have it. Words on books and such from a real life teen. Look out for future interviews/reviews where she is certain to frustrate me.

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Thirteen Reasons Why: A Messy Reflection

Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide, depression, self harm, etc.

Notes:

  1. I am not a mental health professional. This is just the musings of someone with depression and anxiety.
  2. It has recently come to my attention that Jay Asher has in the past searched his name on Twitter and harassed teenagers who didn’t like his book. That is abusive and unacceptable behavior and I do not support him and will not read any of his other books. I read Thirteen Reasons Why before I knew any of this (or perhaps before it even happened.) I would not have read the book had I known this.
  3. I do not recommend anyone read this book knowing number 2 and for other reasons I will discuss later.
  4. There will be spoilers.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book I read a number of years ago. I was still struggling with depression, but I was at one of my more steady periods. Suicidal thoughts weren’t plaguing me and I felt a little more grounded. At that time, I loved the book. I related to Hannah. Her experience was vastly different than mine, but I found pieces of my own mental illness and I felt less alone.

At this time I also wasn’t very involved with the YA community. The way I found books was very different than how I do now. There were definitely better books out there on the topic of depression, but this is just the one I found.

In light of the Netflix series, I’ve reflected more on the book and read other people’s criticisms and can see the faults I didn’t recognize before. I’ve also done a lot more over the years to learn about my own mental illness and how it impacts others differently. I can see where the book can be damaging for others with depression. I can see where it can lead people without the experience of mental illness to believe things that aren’t true. I understand all of this, but I can’t completely let go of where the book helped me.

That’s the thing about representation of mental illness. Everyone’s experiences are so unique. Triggers are so personal. The line between helpful and harmful is at a different place for everyone. It makes it really difficult to determine where a book falls.

Here are some points I took from the book when I first read it:

  1. Not everyone’s depression looks the same, but you’re also not alone.
  2. There aren’t reasons for suicide. Hannah was already depressed. There were just things that didn’t help. Maybe the reasons I’m grasping at for my own depression aren’t actual reasons.
  3. People should be kinder to each other.
  4. Things that people without mental illness can endure can sometimes have a greater effect on people with depression. My reactions to events are different than other people’s.

Just to name a few. And with a lot of these, other people saw the OPPOSITE. That the book was saying people kill themselves for specific reasons. That it glorified suicide. And I completely see that perspective now. It just wasn’t how I saw it when I first read the book. Maybe if I had read it a different time, when my depression was at its worse, the effect would have been different.

Now I believe the book is likely to be more harmful than helpful for most people. (The television show had made up for some of the faults, and then went terribly, terribly wrong by showing the suicide. A suicide they made bloody when it wasn’t in the book. It was a mistake big enough to pretty much cancel out all the good. I enjoyed the series until then, but maybe it isn’t a coincidence I had a mental breakdown the day after marathoning the episodes.) It’s not something I’d recommend. I wouldn’t put it in the hands of a teen with depression. But what about the ones who have read it already and it helped them? What about those who could relate? I also don’t want to disparage them or make them think something is wrong with them for liking it. After all, I had found worth in it at one point.

I don’t know what the answer is here. If there even is one. Mental illness is messy and so is the representation of mental illness. Even books that take the absolute most care are going to be damaging to someone. I could write the story of my own struggle with 100% truthfulness and it could still be harmful to someone else.

That doesn’t mean the damaging aspects of Thirteen Reasons Why, as the book or Netflix series, are off the hook. It’s a problem to be discussed. I think the overall positive impact is narrow. But when it comes to mental illness as a topic as a whole, there’s a lot to be done. More careful representation needs to be out there. And when we fight to keep out things with harmful descriptions from future readers, we can’t forget the ones that have already read it. There are ones who need help because of the harm. And there are ones who found comfort, who shouldn’t be made to feel stupid.

And perhaps a little more mental health education worldwide would stop some of the jokes coming off the Netflix series that make light of suicide. Maybe if more people understood what mental illness entails, those suffering would have the help they need instead of just going to books and shows to feel less alone. 

Here are some other posts I read discussing the book/show:

 

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2017 So Far

Phew. It’s been a while. I had a rough winter which involved being sick a lot. My reading thankfully did not suffer, but pretty much everything else did. Including this blog, obviously. Hopefully with things getting a little better and with all the reading I’m doing, I’ll get more posts in. I also have lots of spring concerts lined up so more music to come as well!

To make up for the months of no posts, here’s a brief overview of some of what I have read and listened to:

Tamora Pierce
A few friends are massive Tamora Pierce fans whereas I somehow missed her existence during my childhood. Better late than never though I suppose. I finished the Alanna series and have started on Circle of Magic. These books are such perfect little fantasies with characters I adore. Loving Pierce’s worlds and will continue to read through her work.

Graphic Novels/Comic Books
I’ve been continuing my efforts to read more comics. The March series by John Lewis is fantastic and highly recommended for everyone. Some others I enjoyed: Paper Girls, Turning Japanese, Tetris, and Boxers & Saints (by Gene Luen Yang who I got to see talk recently so that might get its own post.) I also started a few series I’ll likely talk about later.

Non-Fiction Galore
Entering this new year I read a lot of non-fiction, which was unusual for me. I tend to read non-fiction here and there, but found myself drawn to it while dealing with winter blues and whatnot. As I’m always trying to learn more about different religions, I picked up No God But God which is great for anyone wanting to learn more about Islam. Rest in Power by Trayvon Martin’s parents is heartbreaking, but provides a lot more details about his death.  I also decided to actually read from front to back one of the many coffee table books I own, Jane Austen Cover to Cover. There was also a mix of memoirs and psychology books thrown in. I hope I continue to read more non-fiction.

Music
While I haven’t been my usual music fan self the past few months, there were still some new artists and albums added to my rotation. A fews favorites include: Half Waif, Laura Marling’s latest album, and Pinegrove’s Cardinal. I also went up to Brooklyn to see Bastille and it’s amazing how much they’ve expanded their live shows. Their new album took some time to grow on me but I’m loving Wild World now and the videos they put together for tour were incredible. Also was lucky enough to see Bear’s Den on my birthday and if you don’t listen to them yet, please change that.

This concludes my brief overview of 2017 so far. Now to come up with a reward scheme that gets me to post at LEAST once a month from now on…

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Recent Reads: September-November

As I haven’t done a Recent Reads in a while, here are a few I loved in the past few months that didn’t get reviews.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King characters Good Ol' Fun 

A. S. King is from the Philly area and she set this latest book in Philadelphia so I was automatically interested. Part of my love for this book was just being able to perfectly visualize everywhere the MC went, but King also does weird so well.

The premise of the book is 16-year-old Sarah quits school for reasons the reader isn’t fully told until towards the end. As she wanders around Philly, she runs into different younger and older versions of herself. Through Sarah’s mini adventures and conversations with her other selves, you start to get glimpses of what Sarah is dealing with. This book captures how heavy life can feel as a teenage girl. From grappling with family and school issues to simply the weight of existence. King doesn’t belittle teenage problems. Sarah trying to figure out what “art” is and who she is is just as important as everything else going on.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo characters Wow Factor Gut Punch Page Turner I Ship It fave2 

I absolutely loved Six of Crows and was dying for the release of the second book. It was well worth the wait. I won’t say much in case you’re someone who hasn’t read the first book (go do that right now!!!) but it was a satisfying conclusion to the stories of characters I’ve grown so attached to.

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff Wow Factor Good Ol' Fun Page Turner

Another follow up I was anxiously waiting for. This one I actually got as an ARC from BookCon, but made myself wait until a little closer to the release. It was just as much of a rollercoaster as the first book. I didn’t love it quite as much as Illuminae, but it was still dramatic and fascinating. Time to pick up this series if you haven’t. It’s unlike anything else you’ll read. There’s still one more book and I’m ready for the conclusion.

milk and honey

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur Pretty Words Required Reading

If you’re in need of some poetry, this book is full of beautiful lines. Some of the poems are absolutely breathtaking. Kaur’s poems are deeply personable, but mirror the experiences of many women. She makes you feel love and grief and everything in between.

I also picked up a few comics and graphic novels the past few months. The latest volume of Ms. Marvel might be one of my favorites yet. The theme of her struggling to balance between her life as a superhero and daughter and student is even more central to these issues. I unfortunately do not have any superpowers myself, but juggling different aspects of one’s life is so relatable. Especially post-election when many are trying to move forward while also fighting nazis.

Monstress was recommended many times and I now know why: it has it all. Amazing art and storyline. There’s a lot of gruesome things going on all in an art deco-esque steampunk fashion.

For something a little lighter, I recently grabbed This One Summer off my shelf which has been sitting there since this summer. The art is lovely and the whole book is very lazy summer vacation days.

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