Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Latest Three: The Tyrant's Daughter, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Goliath

The Latest Three is my reader's review blog series where I talk about the latest three books I've read and at least enjoyed to some degree. The policy is that if I feel the book wasn't totally pointless, which I usually do, then I discuss the things I liked most in hopes there will be something that intrigues you enough to pick it up yourself. But at the same time, I give honest commentary and discuss things I wasn't too fond of either so you can understand the best scope of the book in your endeavor to read lots of really great books! Obviously, these come in batches of three, but if you like my review style head over to Goodreads and follow me, Kateri Ransom. I post those as I read them.

I would like to make an official note that I have been toying with the set dates of releasing my blog posts and have come to the conclusion that with my new work schedule it should be easiest for me to release my discussion posts on Wednesdays and my book review posts on Sundays. Which is today! Ha-zah! Sunday! Please enjoy this installment of the The Latest Three!!!

The Tyrant's Daughter, J. C. Carleson
I picked this book up as a birthday present to myself back in February for my 21st, and I'm so glad I finally got to it! This ended up mostly meeting my expectations. It's about a girl named Laila and her mother and brother who escape their unnamed middle eastern country because their father, the king, has been assassinated by his brother. Laila and the rest of her family are removed by US CIA to Washington D. C. where they have to live a low-profile life as lower-class suburbans. This book, however, is not about a Princess learning how to live the Hard Life. It's about her coming to terms with the reality of her family, both There and Here, as well as her country, especially her father and his false royalty, his dictatorship. It's also about friendship and first love and feminism and freedom. 
Without further ado, here's what I thought of The Tyrant's Daughter.
1. Laila: She is sort of a "likable unlikable" character, but I only felt that in the beginning, when her Princess was showing more colorfully. She adapts well, though, and by the end I found myself really liking her! Her path to self-discovery consists of trying on different skins, and I found myself relating to that aspect of her character. There was definitely a common thread between the two of us, which is always nice to experience as a reader.
2. That Moment Where I Judged: This book did a funny little thing. It made me judge Laila (I'm referring to the first bit where she wasn't quite as likable). And when I realized I had judged her, I realized what a superficial thing it was for me to do. I was judging her based off of her privilege, and then I realized, WAIT!, this girl comes from a country that stones women to death for no frickin' reason. It was strange and uncomfortable, but I just so happen to really like books that make me feel strange and uncomfortable, so hats off to you Carleson. Well done.
3. Feminism: I won't say much here, because obviously a book like this would warrant a discussion on feminism. But one particular thing I liked about it was how genuine it was to the specific female characters. A mother who tries her alliance, even in the face of danger, in order to save her family. A typical American white girl, who isn't as one dimensional as she might first appear. And an Invisible Queen...and that's all I'm going to say on the matter.
4. Mystery Aspect: Carleson did something quite nice, but also quite necessary to the plot in the end. She added this sort of building mystery, a "who's on whose side?" sort of situation. Like I said, it was necessary to the character growth in the end, but during the majority of the book, which would otherwise be all character based, it became an intriguing mystery aspect, which though mostly vague to the reader, was nice.
5. The Boys: Interestingly enough, there's a triangular relationship between Laila and the two boys, Amir and Ian, but Carleson makes her own rules here: there's no romance involved. Well, at least between Laila and Amir there isn't. I won't say much more than that I absolutely loved it. They were both excellent characters and if you want to know more about this strange triangle, you'll just have to read the book, won't you?
6. The Girlfriend: Laila makes friends with a typical American girl, and though their relationship was sometimes the source of my annoyance with Laila, I couldn't help but imagine how many of her decisions and reactions regarding their friendship would be totally normal for a girl in her situation. Ultimately, I loved them as friends.
7. Last Thought: I want to mention that I read a review of this where the reviewer said they felt Laila sounded too old to be 15. The funny thing is, I sometimes can feel this way, but reading what this person said I realized it pretty much always has to do with young characters who are in positions of power or at a level of physical strength that I feel their "voice" is too mature for. But here, I didn't feel it at all. Perhaps I was a bit surprised to learn she was only 15, but it wore off quickly. Honestly, I think it just boils down to the fact that we, by nature, are constantly under-estimating our YA audience, especially when it comes to their psychological and moral state. I can count a handful of people I knew as 15 year olds who had the mental capacity for Laila's approach to her new life. I can also count just as many, albeit, if not more, people I knew as 15 year olds who probably didn't have that mental capacity. But still, it doesn't mean teens like that aren't out there.
I will lastly leave you with a little list of words I feel well describes this book: cereal, Cinderella, poison, bridges, King of Nowhere, King of Somewhere, Invisible Queen.

Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins
So it's been over a year since I read Anna and the French Kiss, and now I've finally gotten to Lola! However, I do have to admit that it was partly due to the fact that I realized these pretty new covers would be coming out. For those of you bookish people who have seen this book EVERYWHERE, and don't know what it's about, I'll tell you. It's about a high schooler named Lola living in San Francisco. Her first love, Cricket, broke her heart and then moved away, but now he's back and Lola has a boyfriend, an older boyfriend. But as she learns more about the boy next door, she begins to feel the pull of first love again, even if she's determined not to admit it. This was one of those books that I didn't take too many notes on so I'm just going to say that I really liked it, but for different reasons than I liked Anna, and overall, liked them both the same. So without further ado, here's what I thought of Lola and the Boy Next Door.
1. Anna!: So I knew she would be here, but I didn't know how. I loved both her and Etienne (Yes, I call him Etienne because it is WAY hotter than St. Clair) in the first book and really enjoyed seeing how their characters contributed to this story. Excited about it too? Then I'll tell you they're in this one quite a lot. YAY!
2. About That: Funny thing is, it was this book that made me realize Etienne was actually shorter than Anna, which was also possibly something I just forgot, but for some reason I feel that wasn't true. All my fictional memories of him were as Anna's same height. Is that kinda pathetic? Hope not. If you've read Anna or both, did the same thing happen to you or not?
3. Love the Dads: Yes, that's right. Dads. As in plural. Lola has two dads and they are such an awesome portrayal of a gay couple I can't even start. Sensitive. Protective. Supportive. Protective. Did I mention protective? I also really liked how Lola's relationship with them was played out throughout the story. Much of her personal growth comes from her relationship with them, as much growth, in fact, as what comes with her relationship with the love interest, Cricket. I absolutely adored them and I commend Perkins for writing them so well and bringing up all the various points and perspectives on their family. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always genuine and believable.
4. The Sex: There is sex in this novel, but if I could give it some sort of label I'd call it Accessible Sex. Now while that might sound like a questionable name to you, in more ways than one, what I mean is that for this kind of book and for this kind of target audience it's a good way to portray it. 1) It's not glamorized. Lola is not pining over the fact that she's having sex. She doesn't see it as some sort of life accomplishment and 2) it's not glossed over either. I mean, there is no actual sex scene, so on a superficial level, it is glossed over, but it's something the character thinks about. I also want to point out to parents who might possibly be reading this who are interested, it might be a good novel to read together to discuss the way in which Lola not just talks about it, but also doesn't talk about it. What I mean is, the way she isn't quite honest with herself with some of the reasons why she's choosing to have sex and at what times and with whom, especially because of the way things turn out in the end.
5. Anna vs. Lola: Now a lot of readers say they actually prefer Lola to Anna (referring to the books, not the specific characters), though that's possibly just my specific experience with book bloggers and Booktube. But I'm actually kind of in the middle. I like both equally, to be frank. For Anna, there was this more effervescent feel. It was highly focused on the romance and the mere plight of finally getting these two characters together. Not that there wasn't still more too it, but it was more centered on that plot line. Lola, however, just had more to it. There was more depth to the side characters, more outside issues going on for Lola other than the love interest, Cricket, which I quite liked. In the end, I liked Anna better for it's sheer enchanting, romantic charm and Lola for it's greater depth. I didn't get through Lola quite as fast as I got through Anna, but I also preferred their relationship to Anna an Etienne's.
Either way.
I am sooooooooo excited to get me some ISLA!!!!!

Goliath, Scott Westerfeld
I want to start off first saying this was a fantastic conclusion to this series. If you have only read the first one I will link my review to the second book, Behemoth, here. It's mostly free of spoilers, but if you really don't want to have much of an idea of what it's about, I recommend you only read the opening paragraph, which includes only my overall thoughts. But if you have read the second book, I will say that I liked Goliath even better. This book goes global. The war is in full swing from the get-go and our characters end up travelling to at least four different countries on various parts of the globe. I loved this aspect as well as the budding romance between Alek and Deryn.
So without further ado, here's what I thought of Goliath.
1. There are No Limits in War: As you know, WWI saw a huge shift in war-time combat with the introduction of airplanes, advanced weaponry, radio, and, most dastardly, poison gas bombs. I'm no WWI expert, but the history and literature that survives from this ear has always stuck with me. Oddly, I felt Westerfeld used this opportunity to parallel with WWII and the Cold War. The book blurb tells us about a mad-scientist's advanced weapon called Goliath, "weapon" being the key word. I won't tell you too many specifics about the weapon other than it reminded me of nuclear warfare, a kind of total destruction, one-button-kills-all type of weapon. When Alek first learns about this weapon, Volger replies, "There are no limits in war," and it was a harrowing moment for me as a reader. I loved how Westerfeld put the realities of war in this book in such a realistic yet accessible way for young teens. He is great on this subject in all books, if you ask me, but in this book I most appreciated it.
2. English Dominance: Another unavoidable subject was the role of English dominance and how it played out in the war. It's a brief mention, but it is done in a clear and concise way. Basically, without being too spoilery, Leviathan has to go to Japan and the main reason is to assert British dominance and superiority in battle, to show the war cannot be done without them, especially in a time of British colonization, control, and prejudice against anything, well, not-British. It was simple and effective. Kudos to Westerfeld for including so many telling and often undermined aspects of that war.
3. And of Course, the Blood: Westerfeld has done a god job with this subject in all the series, but I personally felt he used this book to most enunciate the bloodiness of this war. The only thing he completely leaves out is trench warfare, which might have been a good thing to include, but having read the entire series and liking the way it turned out, I can see how it just wouldn't have fit into his story line. But he did take advantage of various opportunities and even if it was all in Deryn or Alek's imagination, it still made me feel uncomfortable inside, and you know how I love books that make me feel a good way, that is. So again, kudos, Westerfeld. Kudos.
4. Two Brief Things: I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I wanted to say I love the dialogue/jargon in this series on the whole. It's well thought up and fits nicely and oftentimes humorously with the world and characters. Also, I adored the perspicacious loris! I need to make a blog post about all my favorite fictional creatures, because Bovril would definitely make the top three!
5. The Romance: I'm not spoiling anything when I mention that Alek does finally find out Dylan is a girl named Deryn; it says so in the book blurb. It was SO NICE  to finally get to this point. I wasn't disappointed in the way the initial argument between the two characters went down, because you know there's going to be difficult feelings between them on this subject. And you know, I do love a slow boil!
6. Deryn: Without a doubt Deryn is my favorite character in this story. As much as I adore and admire Alek, Deryn holds a special place in my heart. She is a great promoter of feminism, but she doesn't try to be. She is just herself, a flyer. She knows her passion, her ultimate goal in life, and she lets nothing stand in her way, not social standards or physical limitations or fear. She is so dear to me and though I am officially done with this series, I will cherish my time with her forever and look forward to our next encounter.

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