Joint Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

This book had a lot of hype before its release and it was right up both our aisles. So, we both got it on publication day. We decided we would do something different. Instead of only one of us reviewing it or doing two reviews, we’re doing a joint review. We’ve come up with five questions.

What are your overall impressions of the book?

Kate: the writing was tight and the story sucked me in. The characters were great; I loved that they had obvious flaws and strengths. And the premise of the novel, zombies rising during the Civil War was so interesting.

Beth: I agree with you about the writing and being sucked in.  I was invested in the story from the first page.  The characters felt like real people and allowed to be imperfect and unapologetic about their undesirable traits.  And who doesn’t like a good zombie novel?  I think what I liked the most about it that is that we are seeing the aftermath of the Civil War from the perspective of a Black girl instead of a white person.  How many books are from that point of view?

Kate: Not enough.

What did you think of the historical context?

Kate: I like what-if historical novels but I was a little worried about this one. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer already did the paranormal set during the Civil War and it was meh. But, this was so much better. Where Buffy Lincoln changed the context of the Civil War (the South have to be defeated! they’re evil vampires!) this novel leaves the context intact and to it adds zombies. So, we can’t just write off the uncomfortable Civil War context of the bible being used to justify slavery or the ideology that there is a racial hierarchy because oh no! supernatural beings! And, that made it so much more thought provoking and interesting.

Beth: This could have gone bad very quickly but I think she handled the time period well.  I kinda like the fact that the Civil War never really ended, it sort of was put on hold when the zombies started to come from the dead leaving this uneasiness to every day life.  Sure, slavery ended and they passed laws to educate former slaves and Native Americans but as for the racial hierarchy it was never really addressed.  Much like it is today.  Justina Ireland doesn’t shy away from the the injustices against African Americans and Native Americans pre-and post-Civil War and even though Jane and Katherine are educated and can kill any shambler, they will always be reminded of their place.

Kate: Agreed. She definitely didn’t shy away. I also liked the follow up at the end of the book which included readings about residential schools.

Who was your favorite character?

Kate: Jane McKeene. Obviously. She’s a hero. and a role model. I can’t wait to see what Jane gets up to next.

Beth: Agreed Jane McKeene is my hero.  I want to be her friend.  Not only is she smart, sarcastic, likes to read but she can also kill zombies.  That’s so badass!

Kate: I know this is a little early but, Jane McKeene for best character of 2018!

Beth: Indeed.  She’s going to be hard to top.

What was your favorite part?

Kate: Any time Jane and her friend Katherine fight zombies.

Beth: I loved the zombie fights but I think I loved the most the bickering between Jane and Katherine.  The chemistry between those two was amazing and you can see how the relationship developed over the course of the novel.

Kate: their relationship is so good. I really liked that the most developed relationship was their friendship and not a romantic connection.

Beth: exactly! More of female friendships in YA please!

What are you looking forward to in the next book? (possible spoilers)

Beth: I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in California and finding out who Jane’s Momma married that betrayed her.  I feel like whoever he is, he’s going to be play a bigger part in Jane’s story.  I also hope we get more of Katherine’s backstory beyond being raised in a brothel.

Kate: Yes! More of Katherine’s backstory! Please! Especially with the role that brothels played in Western expansion in the US! And, maybe some gold rushing in Cali? I also hope we meet Jane’s mom and her Aunties. Oh, and I hope we meet Daniel Redfern again.

Beth: Me too!  I think we will meet Jane’s Mom and Aunties again and I want to know more about Daniel Redfern.  I feel we only have cracked the surface of his character.

What We are Reading Now: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

dread nation

We’ve been reading about this book for months now.  So excited to finally get a chance to read it.

Quick Review: Silver Star by Michael Grant

silver-stars In the second book of Michael Grant’s Soldier Girls series, Rio, Frangie and Rainey have survived their first battle in Africa but the war isn’t over as the focus now turns to Italy.  Each of them have to deal with the reality of what they have done and what they will be asked to do in the future. They all have been asked to do things that they never thought they would have to do even though they knew they would be going into war.  It’s interesting how each of the our three heroines deal with their emotions but also how the adversity makes each of them stronger.  The narrator is still unknown though there are some pretty strong hints a to who it.

This book may take place during World War 2 in an alternative history but it is very much relevant today.  We are still debating the place of women in our Military.  We are still dealing with racism and yes you could even say we are fighting against a potential fascism regime.  Rio, Frangie and Rainey are just normal girls who all signed up for the Army for different reasons but the one thing that they have in common is that when they are needed they step up and do what’s right.  They all fight their own internal prejudices but as the book goes on you can see them all face it and realize how wrong they have been.  It’s not an overnight revelation or anything but you can see the walls coming down.  All three are very brave not just because they are fighting a war or stepping when needed and going above and beyond the call of duty.  They are brave because they are also not shying away from themselves and the sometime uncomfortable truths about themselves. I hope that when people read this, particularly the younger readers get that too.  We all have to be brave enough to face the challenges ahead of us but also in ourselves too.  I’m not sure if this a trilogy or if there are more books to come after the next one.  As of right now, we have made it to 1944, days before the Battle of the Bulge.  World War Two is in it’s final year and I’m very interested to see how our Soldier Girls go from here.

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

and i darkenI think this is really more a political drama then anything else.  Kiersten White re-imagines the origins of Vlad the Impaler as if he had been born a Lada, a girl, rather then a boy.  Lada is fierce, passionate and ruthless.  She is far more interested in fighting and ruling then she is anything else.  From a young age, she knows that she will never be taken seriously as a girl unless she is the smarter, faster and stronger then those around here and does everything she can to make it that way.  When she and her brother are left as hostages to the Ottoman Empire as a way to secure their father’s throne of Wallachia, she becomes enraged of her lack of power. Felt betrayed by her father for leaving her there, where any misstep by him, forfeits their lives.  She uses her time to learn all that she can from her Ottoman captors to use in her vengeance one day. Things go a little sideways when Lada and Radu meet Mehmed, the son of the Sultan.  He becomes their friend and third point to their triangle.  Radu is the polar opposite to Lada.  While she is strong and aggressive, he’s quiet and conservative.  He has the charisma that Lada lacks. Lada has the strength that Radu lacks.  They are not the closets of siblings but they are all each other has so when push comes to shove, they are there for each other.

This is a fascinating a concept.  I don’t know much about the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler beyond he liked to impale people and the inspiration of Bram Stoker’s Dracula so while reading this I had no idea how much of the story is based on fact and how much is added for dramatic emphasis, so I had to google Vlad to find out.  I found out that yes, Lada would have been the second child and had a younger brother named Radu. They both were sent to the Ottoman Empire as insurance of their father would continue to behave.  The Ottoman’s did educate them both and Radu did convert to Islam.  I’m not sure it is historical accurate that both Lada and Radu were in love with Mehmed but it wouldn’t be a YA novel without a little bit of romantic intrigue.  Lada is constantly trying to prove that she is as strong as the men in her life by shunning anything feminine. There is a lot here to discuss about women’s roles and government.  Besides Lada, we meet two of the Sultan’s wives as well as members of his harem.  Mehmed, also has a harem but his women are hidden from us but we know they exist since he keeps fathering children.  The women try to show Lada their own power that they possess but in truth what little power they have it all depends on the men in their lives and staying in his favor.  Lada sees this and it makes her even more resolute to gain her own power.  As for the book itself, it definitely started out slow and sped up as Lada and Radu started to exert their influence on Mehmed.  I only wished it got to that point a lot sooner.  I think the following books will be more interesting as all the characters and the stakes have been established.  I like Lada and I don’t want to see her descend into the cruel Lada the Impaler but it will make for an interesting read.

Review: Front Lines by Michael Grant

front lines So how would World War Two be different if women could have been drafted or enlist in the military? From what I can tell, not that much?  Obviously I don’t know what it was like from personal experience but basing on other books and movies I have read, the experiences of Rio, Frangie, Jenou and Rainey didn’t seem all that different.  To say, war is awful.  Though maybe it was a little harder for the ladies, as they had to endure sexiest comments about how woman do not belong in the military.  Even worse for Frangie, who had deal with the racist along with the sexist.  I would think what our heroines deal with was pretty much the same things as women in the military still face.  I’m thinking about the all the comments and criticism I read about the first women to train to be Army Rangers, recently.  “Women can’t handle the pressure.” ” They are not physically strong enough”.”How will they handle combat?” “The Military is just not the place for women.”  Front Lines may be a work of fiction that takes place 70 years ago but it could easily be written about today.  I studied history in school and it’s what my B.A. is in.  The one thing that I always found fascinating about history is that you can study something in the past and can make direct correlation with what is going on in today’s world.  Basically, Human Being’s don’t learn from the mistakes.  We do the same things over and over again. Just look at our election and how we are fighting over issues of Civil Rights.

But back to the book.  It’s 1942, the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor and America is going to war.  A few years earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled it was unconstitutional for only men be eligible for the draft, women had to as well.  (This has also come up in the campaign about whether or not women should be eligible for the draft) Rio has just finished having breakfast with her family when news comes that her sister, who enlisted in the Navy has died when her boat was attacked by the Japanese.  A few weeks later, her best friend Jenou says she is going to enlist so she ca get out of their small California town and meet some cut officers.  Rio decides she wants to do something else with her life before she gets married and have kids.  Elsewhere in Oklahoma, Frangie decides that the money from enlisting and being in the Army will be enough to keep her family from being destitute and in New York, Rainey has already gone through basic training and now going for special training for Army intelligence.  We follow all their progress though boot camp to actual theater of war.  Frangie is the only who really thinks she will be in the war since she plans on being a Medic but the rest see themselves as secretaries or drivers, away from the front lines.  Women may enlist and can be drafted but they US Military isn’t really going to send them to war, right? Of course they all end up there eventually.  They trained along with the men, though still separated by race.  As one character puts it “only America would go to war against a white supremacist with a segregated army” (not exact quote, I paraphrased)  Rio and Jenou have mixed results during basic training.  Rio finds that she actually enjoyed it and is a good shooter.  The girls all struggle with what it is to be a soldier and a woman.  Now that they have been trained to be soldiers, how are they supposed to act as women.  Will Men like that they have more muscle now?  Should they act more demure?  In battle, are they still supposed to act ladylike while the enemy is shooting at them? Once they get to the front lines, they still have to prove they belong even to the male soldiers that they trained with back in boot camp.  For Frangie, who is now a medic has to deal with being called a Nigra as she’s patching up soldiers and attempting to save their lives.  And Rainey is stuck being a secretary while male soldiers not as qualified as her get called into meetings and missions.  It never ends.  It was a fascinating read that got more interesting once our girls finally got to war.  The second half of the book only covers one battle, their first battle.  It proves that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into the .  The romance of war quickly dissolved into the reality.  They all have done something that they will remember for the rest of their life and you know it will haunt them.  I’m curious how that will play out in the upcoming books.  We saw glimpses of what is to come for them but it’s still only 1943 and their are two more years left and I think 2 more books to go.