Review and Giveaway: Alias Hook, Lisa Jensen

Note: I received a copy of Alias Hook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

When publishers release their seasonal catalogues, I make note of all the books that sound interesting, in my TBR spreadsheet. This is to stop myself from immediately requesting 50 review books, which would only lead to my having way too many books to read and not enough time to read them all. So usually what happens is that I forget about all of them until they’re already published and I can just get them from the library. In the case of Alias Hook, I could not allow this to happen. I was so excited for this book that I put a reminder in my calendar to request a review copy in June.

And look at this excellent cover!

Let me tell you what this is right here. Alias Hook is the backstory of Captain Hook from Peter Pan, starting with his life as a Restoration-era privateer. There is nothing in that sentence that doesn’t make me shriek with joy. Cursed by a former lover, Hook must live forever in Neverland, perpetually fighting with Peter Pan and group after group of Lost Boys, never able to leave the Neverland, never able to die.

“It’s Hook or me this time,” the boy jeered as the massacre began. But it’s never him. And it’s never me. Since then, he has defeated me innumerable times, but never quite to the death. He wills it so, and his will rules all. . . . Is it any wonder I so often tried to kill him? Would not his death break the enchantment of this awful place and release us both? But I can never best him. He flies. He has youth and innocence on his side, and the heartlessness that comes with them. I have only heartlessness, and it is never, ever enough.

Time after time, with new batches of Lost Boys, new Wendys come to be mothers, Peter Pan wages war on Captain Hook and his new batch of pirates. Time after time, Hook and his men lose, and he sees them all massacred — men who were once Lost Boys themselves, and have returned to Neverland as adults, to be pirates. The cycle never changes. Until one day, an adult woman from 1950s England appears in the Neverland.

Y’all, I couldn’t have enjoyed this book more. Nothing about it was unfun. Jensen takes the inherent creepiness and weirdness of the Peter Pan character and dials them up to eleven. I won’t be able to watch Peter Pan Live this winter without thinking of this book and getting a crawly feeling down my spine about that character. (That doesn’t mean I won’t watch Peter Pan Live. I am going to watch it SO HARD because it’s going to be the greatest television event of our generation.)

I could have done with a higher degree of Restoration-era privateering from Hook prior to his being trapped in Neverland for centuries, but that is just personal preference. I love privateering. Jensen sensibly spends most of her time showing us the man Hook has become — a man weary of the senseless deaths of his pirate underlings, a man who puts on the persona of the bravura pirate captain though it becomes increasingly unnatural to do so — rather than the man he used to be. The few glimpses we have of Past Hook are quite unpleasant, and it makes sense that we don’t hang out with him much in his privateering raping-and-pillaging days. That would make it difficult to get behind his reformed-man status and romance with Stella. (Um, spoilers, but like, as soon as a thirty-eight-year-old woman appears in Neverland, you know she’s going to get with Hook, right?)

I’d criticize the mythology of Neverland — it’s reasonable enough that Neverland exists as a necessity for children’s dreams in the real world, but the mechanics of that mythology aren’t very well fleshed out. It’s fine. I skipped past that stuff. I took in the gist and tuned out the details that didn’t interest me. I went into this book predisposed to like it, and I had a really, really good time reading it.

And now the giveaway! St. Martin’s is offering a copy of Alias Hook (with its gorgeous cover) to one lucky reader! Complete the below Google Form by the end of this month (31 July) to be entered for this giveaway. I’ll select a winner at random and announce it on 1 August. This contest is open to US readers only (sorry, international folks!).

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.25; Half-Year in Review, Sarah Lotz’s The Three, and a Wedding Game

Back from hiatus, the Jennys review the reading year thus far: What disappointed us, what thrilled us, and what are we looking forward to in the second half? We review Sarah Lotz’s book The Three, we play a game of Whiskey Jenny’s invention, and we answer a piece of listener mail about binge-reading. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Here are the contents of the podcast if you want to skip around:

Starting at 1:36 – We discuss the year in reading so far. What did we each enjoy that we didn’t expect to? What did we each believe we would enjoy but then we did not? What character did we most enjoy reading about? What did we read this year that was outside our comfort zone? What author did we read for the first time this year and we’re now looking forward to delving further into their catalog?

Starting at 8:08 – We each pick three books that we’re excited to read in the second half of the year (not necessarily books that are coming out later in the year, but some of them are).

Starting at 13:19 – We review Sarah Lotz’s book The Three (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository). It — could have been better for us. Especially for Whiskey Jenny. I feel like I am on a losing streak recommending books to Whiskey Jenny.

Starting at 26:13 – Whiskey Jenny concocts a game about literary-linked weddings! In honor of Randon’s recent wedding.

Starting at 38:58 – We answer a piece of listener mail about binge-reading. I LOVE TO BINGE READ and Whiskey Jenny does not, so there you go. Oh my God I love binge-reading. It’s a sickness. I am an insatiable binge-reader.

40:55 – No longer true. I read The Scorpio Races since recording this podcast. It was fine. How did she write all these books that are just fine, and then she wrote The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, which are the books I am the most excited about from this year apart from The People in the Trees?

Starting at 42:17 - Whiskey Jenny recommends Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore for our next podcast. Exciting!

43:41 – Closing remarks and outro.

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.

Review: My Real Children, Jo Walton

Jo Walton has carved out a very nice niche of deniably speculative fiction, in which supernatural elements are so lightly present that you could blink and miss them. Among Others caps off a full book of uncertainty about the reality of magic (by the reader — Mori believes it all along) with a legitimately otherworld fight that puts paid to any doubts you might have had. My Real Children (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) goes even lighter on the magic; when Patricia makes her decision at the end, she might as easily be senile as brave.

Patricia Cowan is very, very old, and she can no longer trust her memory. Or rather, her memories, for she seems to have two sets of them. In one, she marries a cold, intellectual man named Mark and has four children. In another she refuses Mark’s proposal of marriage, falls in love with a woman called Bee, and has three children. In the world she shares with Bee, nations have dropped numerous nuclear bombs, beginning with the Cuban Missile Crisis; in the one with Mark, the fate of nations remains rather more peaceable. But which is true? (Or are they both?)

Blah blah inevitable comparisons to Life after Life, except that in My Real Children, Patricia doesn’t get multiple outcomes the way Ursula does. She gets one: Senility, and nurses that come to write “Confused” or “Very Confused” on the chart at the end of her bed. And between making one choice — to marry Mark, or not to marry him — and ending her days in an old-folks home, she seems to have lived two separate lives, one mainly happy and one largely sad. Here’s the Mark-marrying life:

That autumn a publisher bought Mark’s book, so clearly it was not Causaubon’s Key to All Mythologies after all. That night Mark visited Tricia’s bedroom after a bath but without any wine. The sexual act seemed to be over faster, which she approved, and he did not apologize afterwards. She did not become pregnant, nor did she the month after, but by February she could not keep food down and she knew she was in for it again.

And the life with Bee:

Pat began researching for the Rome [guide]book immediately after they moved. It took her all of both summers to complete. Going to Rome with Bee did soften her memories of going there brokenhearteed with Marjorie, and by the end she felt she loved Rome almost as much as Venice, though never as much as Florence. “Rome has all these layers, all this history folded over almost stratigraphically,” she said to Bee. “Florence is all of one piece, and that’s what I love about it. It all fits together so perfectly.”

And that’s the whole book: the many many small things that go to build a life. The times of sadness are quiet and lovely, as are the times of joy, in both of the storylines. My Real Children is the story of two lives, two ways a person could turn out, and while one is happier in many ways than the other, Walton doesn’t detract from the importance of the sadder one. Tricia’s four children with Mark are as significant as the three she has with Bee, and their lives — and Tricia’s — matter just as much.

Also reviewed by: Vasilly, Entomology of a Bookworm; and let me know if you reviewed it too, so I can add a link!

Review: Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been,” says Kimberly Keiko Cameron at one point in the comic Skim. And the book certainly reminds you of all the things about being sixteen that were garbage — if not Kim’s particular problems, then certainly the general experience of being sixteen. Called “Skim” as an unkind joke — she isn’t slender, white, and blonde like the popular girls — Kim is an outsider at her private high school. She’s not an outsider in a Carrie way, but more in the sense that high school makes so many people outsiders: that the people at your high school just aren’t your community. Kim is looking for her community.

The ex-boyfriend of a classmate, Katie Matthews, kills himself. Not long after, Katie herself falls off a roof (on accident?), breaking both her arms. The school goes into mourning overdrive, requiring counseling for all students, releasing white balloons in honor of the dead, discussing what makes them all sad and happy. Skim is disgusted with the show of mourning for someone that most of them never knew, and the false enthusiasm with which many of her classmates embrace the idea of being Suicide Preventers to their peers.

The painful thing about Skim is that Kim truly just needs to find her people. Like high-schoolers everywhere, she’s trying on identities: perhaps she’s a Wiccan, with a bedroom altar where she burns sage to calm herself down; perhaps she’s an arty cool girl lesbian like the teacher she develops a crush on. But none of these identities settles into her, because she cannot find her people.

Ugh, y’all. Not knowing who your people are is just the absolute worst. I am feeling glum now because I’m remembering past versions of myself when I was struggling to find my people (college more than high school) and how miserable that was. I’m glad I’m an adult. Props to the Tamaki cousins for portraying so vividly how much it sucks not to be an adult.

What period of your life was the worst? I was happy as a clam in middle and high school, and then much of my college career was terrible. You?

Review: Legend and Prodigy, Marie Lu

Here’s what I did that was foolish. I read Legend (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), liked it, and considered writing my review of it right then. But my computer was kind of far away, and The Raven Boys was right next to my chair. So I read The Raven Boys. Now I can’t think about anything except for The Raven Boys. I’m going to do my best by Legend and the sequel, Prodigy, which I read on the Fourth of July.

After failing the exams that would have given him a place in society, Day fled his home and became a street kid and a guerrilla fighter, one of the most wanted criminals in the whole Republic. He’s determined to find a way to help his brother Eden, who has been stricken by one of the many strains of plague that strike frequently in the Republic. June is the Republic’s best and brightest soldier. The only person ever to achieve a perfect score on her exams, she’s destined for greatness. As a test of her skills, the Republic assigns her to track down the person responsible for murdering her brother, Metias: an independent rebel named Day.

Spoiler alert: The government is evil. That’s not a real spoiler because I am pretty confident you figured that out on your own. You are smart people that way. Also, Day didn’t kill Metias. That is also not a spoiler because the book tells you it all along. June and Day are on a collision course that will challenge the beliefs of both.

Legend was a lot of fun because it was nonstop action, but Prodigy (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) veered a little too far into love quadrangle territory. In the second book, June’s assigned to lead the Republic’s ruler, Anden, to a place where he will be assassinated by a group called the Patriots, but she kind of gets a little crush on Anden, and Day gets all insecure that she doesn’t truly love him, and he kisses a friend of his called Tess who has a crush on him but she’s like thirteen or fourteen so that’s kind of gross. It is too much angst about kissing, not enough political intrigue, in the second book. Lu’s good about exploring issues of privilege and how it affects you allegiance, but I am tired of everyone all the time thinking about kissing while they should be thinking about REVOLUTION.

And now, although I really liked Legend a lot, I sort of don’t feel like reading Champion because Tess bums me out.

Gin Jenny Becomes a Cog in the Maggie Stiefvater Propaganda Machine (a review of The Raven Boys)

One time a while ago, Anastasia tweeted at me “OMG THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA IS SO GOOD SEND HELP” (The Queen of Attolia is indeed so good you will definitely need help to be sent). While I was reading The Raven Boys, I wanted to take that whole tweet, substitute The Raven Boys for the title, and tweet it approximately every twenty pages. After a rocky start in which I engaged in some cranky grumbling about all the times Ana and Memory and Anastasia and Jill had been simultaneously wrong about a book (NB this has never happened), around page 60 I fell crazy in love with The Raven Boys and could not figure out an appropriate outlet to express the strength of my feelings. That situation is ongoing.

It’s this part, when Gansey, a rich-kid protagonist searching for a Welsh mythological hero, is a prat to Blue, the only non-psychic daughter in a family of psychics, that got me. (He’s just offered to pay her manager back if she takes time out from waitressing to come talk to them, and she’s gotten mad about it. As you would.)

To his credit, the Aglionby boy didn’t speak right away. Instead, he thought for a moment and then he said, without heat, “You said you were working for a living. I thought it’d be rude to not take that into account. I’m sorry you’re insulted. I see where you’re coming from, but I feel it’s a little unfair that you’re not doing the same for me.”

 

“I feel you’re being condescending,” Blue said.

 

In the background, she caught a glimpse of Soldier Boy [Ronan] making a plane of his hand. It was crashing and weaving toward the table surface while Smudgy Boy [Noah] gulped laughter down. The elegant boy [Adam] held his palm over his face in exaggerated horror, fingers spread just enough that she could see his wince. . . . Neeve had to be wrong. She’d never fall in love with one of them.

Then Gansey, having attained the peak of unpleasantness of which Gansey is capable, goes away to think about what he has done and try to be better in the future. What can I say, y’all? I am a sucker for characters being successfully schooled on how to be a better person. And also for characters who really want to be a better person.

So the story is this: Blue has been told her whole life that if she kisses her true love, he will die. And this year, she knows from her psychic mother and aunt, the boy who calls himself Gansey is going to die. As much as Blue knows that she should stay away from Gansey and his three prep-school friends, she finds herself drawn into their quest to track down and awaken the sleeping Welsh hero Owen Glendower. But the five of them aren’t the only ones who are looking.

Basically, this story is a conglomeration of things that I hate. When I described it to my sister with the crazed eyes of an evangelist, she said, “Wait, why did you even read this book?” I hate Welsh mythology. I hate doomed prophecy romances, or indeed any doomy prophecies whatsoever. And I hate rich privileged kids who spend their days basking in their privilege and taking helicopters to remote locations. Absolutely nothing about this book appealed to me, yet here I am with the evangelist crazy eyes, trying to formulate words to describe its wonderfulness.

“How do you feel about helicopters?”

 

There was a long pause. “How do you mean? Ethically?”

 

“As a mode of transportation.”

 

“Faster than camels, but less sustainable.”

The heart of it is the characters, Blue and Gansey, and Gansey’s friends: Noah, painfully shy and introverted; Ronan, perpetually angry since the brutal murder of his father a year ago; and Adam, poor and ferociously proud and trying to get away from his abusive father. Put any two of those characters together (well, maybe not Noah so much, but any of the others), and the scene absolutely sings. Particularly if one of them is Gansey, whose friends love him in approximately equal measure to how much they resent him. These are friendships complicated by class, by money, by accents and damage and helicopters, and when these friends have an argument, you are simultaneously on everyone’s side at the same time. It is the BEST.

I accept that by writing this post, I have contributed to raising your expectations about The Raven Boys to levels that may not be reasonable, like that time Aarti finally read the Chaos Walking books but by then we had all raved about them way too much for her to enjoy them. (Still super sorry about that, Aarti!) I’m sorry if because of me you read The Raven Boys and don’t like it. I accept responsibility for that if it happens. But you should still read The Raven Boys, because I bet you will like it a lot.

More than anything, the journal wanted. It wanted more than it could hold, more than words could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing burst from the pages, in every frantic line and every hectic sketch and every dark-printed definition. There was something pained and melancholy about it.

Coming soon: I rave about The Dream Thieves and bewail the long days that stand between me and Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and the even longer days that stand between me and the fourth-and-final book.

Review: The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

I would just like all of you to know (particularly Clare, whose review of The Winner’s Curse inspired me to read it) that I am a big dumb moron.

What this author’s name is not: Marie Rutkowski.
What it is: Marie Rutkoski.

If you try to search at your library for the name “Rutkowski”, maybe nothing will come up. And maybe you will say to yourself, “Well, the book just came out. The library must not have ordered a copy yet.” And then maybe you will check back periodically to see if the library has ordered a copy, and maybe each time you search for it in the catalog, you will search for “Rutkowski” because that is a distinctive last name and will not be likely to produce extraneous results that are not the book you’re looking for. And maybe several months will go by before you happen to search by the title instead of by the author’s name, and you will realize you had the name wrong all along and you could have read the book back in March when it came out if you weren’t such a moron.

As the daughter of a great general of Rome with pianos Valoria, Kestrel must either join the military or marry, within the next few years. Raw from the feeling of having no choices, she bids one day on a Greek Herrani slave at an auction, in whose eyes she sees the same defiance that she feels about her own life. But Arin has secrets of his own, and Kestrel’s impulsive decision leads to unexpected consequences (& love maybe? Who knows?).

Oh y’all. I have so many hopes for the rest of this series. I hope that Kestrel has to look back on the version of herself that casually benefited from slavery, and to regret that she simply sat with her discomfort rather than doing anything about it. I hope she gets to do some boss strategizing, and I hope that all the other characters continue to be impressed with her brilliance for strategy, as they have consistently been so far. I hope a whole bunch of spoilery things also. I won’t tell you those things. I’ll just think them inside my head.

Kestrel doesn’t choose to go to the slave auction; she’s dragged there by her friend Jess, who’s unbothered by the existence of slavery. Once she’s purchased Arin, she’s also purchased something she did not intend: The breakdown of her ability to benefit quietly from slavery, without questioning it. Because here is Arin, a slave whose anger at his condition is palpable, a slave who speaks Latin Valorian and loves music and questions her, and she’s not able to deny his right to be a person.

I liked this because I cannot imagine that everyone who lived in a slave society — or even everyone who owned slaves — thought it was fine. Surely there were hordes of people like Kestrel, who feel uncomfortable when they are forced to look slavery in the face, but who don’t do anything about it because it’s easy and peaceful to go along, and it’s painful and hard (as Kestrel quickly discovers) to run against the ideas of everyone you socialize with. Plus, it’s a good direction for a “forbidden love” sort of story to go in. Forget how forbidden it would be societally for Kestrel and Arin to have a thing. It’s also functionally impossible because she owns him, and if either of them forgets that for a second, their world will swiftly be there to remind them.

Some good plot twists ensue. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger, either, in case you are worried about that. You could read this book as a standalone and feel satisfied with your life. (That doesn’t mean everything ends happily. It just means that it properly ends.) Instead it does that thing I love, where it shuffles the pieces around the board and says, “This is where we start from next time,” and it’s a whole other place from where you started this time. The Good Wife always does this with its finales. It is the best.

Again: Rutkoski. Not Rutkowski. Important distinction.

Other reviews: Clare’s!, Good Books and Good Wine, YA Book Nerd, Books with Bite, Fantasy Book Cafe, Anna Reads, Working for the Mandroid, In Bed with Books, Waking Brain Cells, Muggle-Born, Bloody Bookaholic, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Proud Book Nerd, Ivy Book Bindings, YA Reads (did I miss yours? Let me know in the comments!)

An ongoing argument

Superego: Return your library’s ebook copy of The Dream Thieves straight away.
Id: No. I want it.
Superego: Yes, I know. But remember? You own it now! In hardback. You impulse-bought it at the store.
Id: Because I wanted it.
Superego: Yes, because you wanted it, and you didn’t run that purchase order by me before making it, but that’s all water under the bridge. Now you have it! Hooray! You have it in hardback. Return the library ebook copy so somebody else can read it.
Id: But I want it.
Superego: YOU WILL STILL HAVE IT.
Id: Might want it on the bus one time. On my Nook.
Superego: Then you can wait the twenty minutes until you get home! And then you can read the hardback copy you greedily purchased for yourself.
Id: BUT I WANT IT THOUGH.

Review: On Sal Mal Lane, Ru Freeman

I confess to being seduced into reading On Sal Mal Lane (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) by its cover. I am helpless in the face of vibrant blue with bronze highlights. And with the stylized children on the bottom. I couldn’t resist. Look at this here:

The Herath family moves into Sal Mal Lane before civil war breaks out in Sri Lanka. Their beauty and kindness to one and all bewilders and attracts the families in the lane: Old Mr. Niles, confined to his bed and dreadfully bored before Nihil Herath begins coming to talk to him; slow, careful Raju, who is devoted to the youngest daughter, Devi, born on an inauspicious day and thus widely considered to be Doomed; Sonna who is considered a thug but craves the friendship and approval of the Herath children, particularly good-girl Rashmi; his twin sisters Rose and Dolly whose acceptance into the Herath household baffles the close-minded Mrs. Silva down the road. Though Sinhalese live side by side with Tamil, the coming of the war threatens to divide the lane.

Mumsy compared On Sal Mal Lane to a Rumer Godden book, and although I wouldn’t have thought of the comparison on my own, it struck me as a very good one. Like Rumer Godden, Ru Freeman writes about the wrong ideas children get, but doesn’t make fun of them for getting such ideas. She remembers the seriousness of childhood, the way children take adult chatter in a spirit of magical thinking; but also children’s practicality and refusal, sometimes, to accept adult values that are not their own.

In he absence of what she termed concrete information, his mother placed the guitar on top of her almirah. It was a confiscation that was supposed to be honored by virtue of her having said so, but it was one designed to fail by virtue of her children’s joint understanding, unspoken but known, that it was a travesty to deprive their older brother of an instrument that belonged in his hands. That even Rashmi was outraged by the punishment was sufficient validation of their feeling that this was an injustice that could not be tolerated.

 

“We will take it in turns to get the guitar down from the almirah for Suren,” Rashmi declared.

Freeman’s also wonderful — effortlessly wonderful — at sibling dynamics. After the riots that leave two Tamil houses on Sal Mal Lane burned down, the Heraths wander over to a nearby lane where most of the residents were Tamil. The houses are covered in ash, and there is no sign of people there.

“Where did the people go?” Devi asked for them all.

 

“The people must have gone before they came,” Nihil said, and they all knew who that they were.

 

“Were the people saved?” Devi pressed on.

 

“How would we know?” Suren asked.

 

“The people were saved,” Rashmi said, deciding for them all on a version of a tale that they could live with. “They left and they took nothing, so they must be safe.”

 

None of them could know for sure if this was true, whether the inhabitants of Kalyani Avenue, just up the road from theirs, with nobody to speak for them, had survived, whether all of them were hiding in one of the houses into which they had not gone, or crouching in heaps on the floors of the refugee camps they had been told were set up in government buildings and schools and all the places of worship, the temples, mosques, churches, and kovils.

Ru Freeman writes her characters with incredible generosity: a tricky line to walk in some cases, looking for sympathy for unsympathetic characters without lapsing into pathos. Even Sonna, who runs with the Sinhalese gangs that terrorize Tamil households later in the book, is defined by his rebellious wish for the Heraths to become his friends; when he stops Nihil from wandering into the street, and Nihil looks at him with gratitude, he’s heart-wrenchingly desperate for the feeling that he’s a good person. Freeman is brilliant at putting in small, sad details that stop you from regarding anybody as a villain.

My one complaint is that Freeman overwrites to a degree. It feels like a new writer’s problem, like she doesn’t yet know whether she can fully trust her readers to pick up implications unless she spells them out in very long sentences. But it’s a minor gripe in an absolutely lovely book. If I hadn’t read a New York Times review complaining about it, I might never have noticed. Ru Freeman’s great, and I wish her the long and wonderful writing career she probably does not need me to wish her because it’s exactly what is inevitably going to happen.

They read it too: S. Krishna’s Books, Largehearted Boy. Did you read it? Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll link to your review too!

Me elsewhere

Hey friends! I’m over at Fangirl Nation today talking about why I read the end before I read the middle. Drop by and tell me what you think!

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