About Claire Chandler

My name is Claire, and I am a student at Oasis. My favorite genres are fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction. I read constantly, and love to talk about my favorite stories, much to the chagrin of my family and friends. Outside of reading I like to unicycle and bake.

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

When I first heard about Wayward Son, I was dubious. After all, the first book (Carry On) was essentially a Harry Potter fanfic from a book about fanfiction, and it seemed as if it had been pretty thoroughly wrapped up. The premise of the second book is a time honored favorite among fanfiction authors as well— a road trip. Hearing this, I naturally assumed that it would be a fluffy, feel-good story about the main characters post-adventure shenanigans. Perfect, I thought, for a quick, cute read as I waited for the final book in my favorite trilogy to be released. I would already know the characters and the world, Rowell is always fun, it will be a fast, fairly easy read. I mean, it’s a road trip fic

    Going in with these expectations I was somewhat surprised when right from the start the book did its best to defy conventions. The initial chapters address the fallout from the events of book one. Simon is suffering from depression as he struggles with a bevy of repressed issues, ranging from the loss of his powers to figuring out that has been in love with Baz this entire time. Stuck between the worlds of Mages and Mundanes by his lost magic and newly gained wings and tail, Simon has been living with Penny and Baz as they all try and figure out their lives after the events of Carry On. As the story progresses, we see development in the characters, but this angst persists in a way that is unusual in books of its kind.

It is here that the series’ quick POV switches and short chapters truly shine, as we alternate between Baz, Simon, Penny and occasionally Agatha away in California. Because of the short chapters and informal format, Rowell is able to switch points of view without disrupting the narrative, a feat few multiperspective books manage to achieve. It is this seamless transition that allows the reader to see different parts of the story, without being taken out of the storytelling. This is incredibly important as a reader, since all of the main charactes are extremely unreliable, and only when we are allowed to compare and contrast their perspectives on a situation does that situation become clear.

Still, the tone doesn’t quite work. It is a subversion of the usual road trip tropes, yes, but the pacing is a little off, and the end result is a book that feels like the author tried to put multiple plots into one novel. It is readable, and it is entertaining, but the plot was weaker than that of the first book. The villains in particular felt like fillers, a big baddie that could be easily defeated in one book and a blaze of glory. Which would have been fine, except that a recurring conflict througout the book was dealing with the four main character’s mental health and their struggle with various traumas. This ended up as a ridiculously underutilized plot point considering that it had so much more potential and was far more interesting to me as a reader than the bad guys ever were. 

So it is that the worldbuilding ends up being the strongest part of the book, which came as a surprise. The first book established a Harry Potter style world, you knew the general rules but that was about it and in the end that was all you really needed to know. But in book two our main characters are in a foreign country (America, which added a running gag of culture shock) and have to learn new rules and come to terms with some of the realities of the magical world. This is aided greatly by the introduction of some new characters of differing backgrounds who pop up in later chapters and give some much needed context. And while a lot of the ideas presented are as yet undeveloped, or at least underdeveloped, I have hope that further exploration will happen in book three. Overall, Wayward Son is a solid YA. You don’t want to think too hard or else it unravels, but it is engaging and fast paced enough to be forgiven.


A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

A Treason of Thorns surprised me. I had seen references to it in the past, the premise sounded good, and the cover was pretty— although I am still unsure where the title comes from, but it got my attention, so I suppose it did what it was supposed to. But the point is, it wasn’t high on my TBR. Coming out of a reading slump and bored during quarantine, I picked it up on a whim. I had read the author’s debut novel (The Light Between Worlds), and while I liked it, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to recommend it to book club, per say. But while The Light Between Worlds was a slow, reflective read, A Treason of Thorns picked up the pace quite nicely. It has a simple but compelling plot, interesting characters and an overarching question about the importance of the roles we choose and the ones that are chosen for us.
A Treason of Thorns is set in what seems to be early post Elizabethan era Britain, although to my remembrance, there were no specified dates. However, in this version of the past, there exists a magical phenomenon known as the Great Houses, magical, sentient estates scattered across the world. In Britain, these houses are bound by magic to the Crown, and their power can only be safely channeled by the caretakers, men and women who live in and love the Great Houses. These caretakers use magical keys in order to use their House’s magic to help the surrounding countryside flourish. This is not a wholly unique premise, but it is unusual enough to still be a novelty, which is an unfortunate rarity in YA fantasy.
Our protagonist and narrator, Violet Sterling (Vi for short), grew up in Burly House, one of the six Great Houses of Britain. Her father, George Sterling, is the caretaker, and is grooming Vi to be his successor. Her mother left when Vi was a child, unable and unwilling to be a part of a family in which Burly House came first, above anything and anyone, and unable to take an unwilling Vi with her. So Vi grows up isolated, with her father often away on caretaker’s business, and her mother starting a second family. Left with Burly House and her father’s ward (and Vi’s best friend), Win, Vi roams the grounds with her house and her playmate, dreaming of the day when she will become caretaker.
But when her father is convicted of treason, and sentenced to house arrest (a cruel punishment that eventually forces the House to kill its caretaker), she loses everything. Her father will not be alive the next time she sees him, Burly House is closed to her until he is dead, and for unknown reasons, her father forced Win to stay behind. Now, seven years later, Vi has been living in the Fens with an old couple who used to work as house and groundskeepers. When she gets the news that her father is dead and Burly has once again opened its gates, Violet makes a deal with the king and races home. But what she finds is nothing like what she remembers. Burly is in pain and disrepair, and Win is distant and in as much of a hurry to leave as she is to return.
This was a fun ride. I probably won’t reread it, but it made for excellent escapism. Weymouth isn’t one for a lot of action, but she is excellent at creating meaningful relationships of various sorts between characters and these relationships and how they are used generate much of the drama and intrigue that keeps you turning pages. All in all, I really enjoyed A Treason of Thorns— it was entertaining and engaging and as I said, it made for great escapism.

Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

With her bubbly outlook and likeable characters, Becky Albertalli has long been a quintessential voice in YA romcoms. With popular novels like her widely acclaimed Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda and its movie adaptation, Love, Simon, she even managed to break out of bookish audiences. But in my humble opinion this new novel is one of her best yet. The glory can’t all go to her, of course— like her previous work, What If It’s Us, she collaborated with a second author: Aisha Saeed (Amal Unbound). In all honesty, What If It’s Us (Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli), felt somewhat disjointed. Individually, I enjoy Albertalli and Silvera’s work, but their writing styles are so very different from one another that they did not fit well together.
In contrast, Saeed’s writing meshes perfectly with Albertalli’s— lighthearted and sweet while still managing to ground Albertalli. Albertalli writes Jamie, and Saeed writes Maya; childhood friends who fell out of touch years before the start of the book. When their respective mothers sign them up to canvas for a progressive candidate challenging an incumbent, the two teens kindle both a great friendship and a newfound interest in politics. Over the course of the summer the two friends will battle racism and social anxiety as estrangement turns to friendship turns to feelings.
Yes, No, Maybe So is a sweet story (perfect for those slow burners) about friendship and young love that will lift your spirits and serve as a reminder that your voice matters. It is a story of hope and determination that helped get me interested in politics. If you are looking for a shot of fluffy goodness to get you through reality, this is the book for you. I would recommend it primarily to fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Let me preface this review by saying that this is not a YA book. However, as an older teen, I think that it is a perfect book for someone transitioning out of YA, as I myself am. It must also be said that it has trigger warnings for violence and sexual assault. If these statements do not exclude you from potential readership, please do read this book. The Power by Naomi Alderman is epic, terrifying, unflinchingly honest and utterly brilliant. I am of the firm opinion that it should be read by everyone.
Let’s rewind a little. The premise is simple: one day, girls and young women start exhibiting the strange new ability to generate shocks like electric eels. These girls are able to wake up the same power in older women (there is a scientific explanation for this, so the book falls firmly into sci-fi rather than fantasy). Suddenly, with women holding an inherent biological advantage over men, the balance of power in the world shifts. It starts slow, a woman winning an important election in America, a new branch of religion with the Holy Mother at its center growing in popularity from South Carolina. It spreads and strengthens from there. Revolutions are built off of women banding together to use their newfound power to change the world they live in. But what starts off as a fight for equality, for autonomy, soon tips too far.
The Power follows four point of view characters, Margot, an American politician; Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a British crime boss; Allie, a foster care kid turned religious leader who hears a voice a la Joan of Arc; and Tunde, an aspiring photojournalist who captures one of the first scrap of footage of the power being used. Together, the four protagonists— I hesitate to call any of them heroes— let the reader follow the slow progression of different parts of society as the world changes. The characters themselves have amazing development— although admittedly not always for the better. While some of the characters develop into what you might call heroes, others continue past that, and change from victims to heroes to oppressors. The hard part is that you care about all of them, even as you are horrified by their actions, and herein lies Alderman’s strength: she writes about humanity. She writes flawed, complicated, scarred characters that you care about because they feel inherently real, even if sometimes you can’t like them as people. But she also understands the relationships between those people, the different dynamics in groups and cultures and as a result, her book feels terrifyingly plausible.
If that wasn’t enough, it is also an excellent novel. The Power is often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but I would argue that Alderman’s book is superior, for the simple reason that it is more easily readable. I personally think that Handmaid’s Tale, while an important book and a fascinating culture study, wasn’t written in a way that people could read it easily, especially those who don’t read very much. The plot was meandering, the main character was complacent, and her understanding of the world was negligible. While I understand while Atwood chose to write it as she did, I was simply not invested in the story other than academically. The Power, however had an engaging plot, captivating characters, and an excellent study of the world we live in today.

One of Us is Next by Karen McManus

I went into One of Us is Next with high hopes, but still, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I liked One of Us is Lying (book one). In the end, I think that I liked the sequel even better thanthe debut hit. With a caveat. If you are looking for a fast paced thriller, then this isn’t for you. However, if like me you enjoy a slower, more introspective story that tends toward looking at motives and relationships rather mostly clues, this is the book for you. This is not to say that it is devpid of suspense— simply that it is not a major element of the book untilt he final third.

In book one we followed the Bayview Four, as they came to be called, but  One of Us is Next revolves around an almost entirely new set of characters. Almost, because one third of the trio that make up our POV characters is Maeve, Bronwyn’s little sister who was instrumental to the wrapup of the first book. The other two are Knox, Maeve’s former boyfriend and current best friend, and another girl, Phoebe. Still, McManus manages to create a new cast of characters, that intersects with our old ones (who have matured off page, but still feel organic and right).

Ever since the exoneration of the Bayview Four, copycat gossip blogs and apps have been popping up at Bayview high, although none have managed to get a foothold. Until now. But when the students of Bayview get a collective text, it isn’t a juicy piece of gossip— it’s a game. Here’s how it works: one student gets a text, and they have twenty-four hours to choose, Truth or Dare. Pick dare and you get a task and fourty-eight hours to complete it (and document it), pick Truth— or don’t pick at all, and you get one of your secrets revealed to the entire school. Phoebe is first, and she elects to ignore it. After all, the only secret that could hurt her— well, no one could know that. Except, somebody does. And they tell the entire school. With one text, Phoebe’s life (already half in ruins after the death of her father) is upeneded, and she is just the opening act. After Phoebe’s worst secret is revealed, and her life upended, everyone knows to choose Dare. Except Maeve, who wants no part of it. But when Maeve refuses to choose, she’s not the one who pays the price.

After two terrible truths, who wouldn’t pick dare? But after Bayview is shaken by a second death, the game stops. But the question remains, who was playing that terrible game with them? And was the death of that student just a tragic accident, or is there something else going on? Pairing her excellent character building with a captivating new mystery and a powerful critisism of gendered roles and sexual pressures on teens, McManus has written a sequel that more than lives up to its predecessor.


His Dark Materials Adaptations

I am not sure how old I was when I first read the Golden Compass, but looking at the impacts it had on my early life, I must have been around six or seven. In retrospect this seems early, but I grew up following around a big sister four years my senior, and insisting that I read whatever she did, no matter the suggested age. We got it on audiobook, a favorite medium of our family (my mother had figured out when I was a baby that if she turned on an audio very low when she tucked us in, we would have to lie very still and quiet to be able to hear it, and we would quickly fall asleep). I still have that audio on my bookshelf, it is a full cast production, with narration by the author, and Phillip Pullman’s voice still makes me sleepy.
By now it is a familiar tale, but no less beloved or relevant as I age. As a child (and still today) I was drawn to its epic fantasy adventure with characters deeper and more relatable than Lord of the Rings, and its sci-fi/steampunk world more complex and well-built than Narnia (two of my other childhood favorites). But I think what I really loved— and still do— was how Phillip Pullman wove more real world themes into the narrative in a way that children could understand. The trilogy starts with the main character, Lyra Belacqua, as a child of around twelve, and yet the books do not shy away from tackling complex and controversial discussions of politics, science, organized religion, and their intersections. More importantly, amid its fantastical adventure, it does so in a way that younger readers can understand. That, I think, is the beauty of the Golden Compass. Even though it was written by an older man, I could relate strongly to the main character. Even when talking about difficult and controversial subjects, I understood— and more importantly, I felt like I was being talked to in a way that was respectful to me.
The Golden Compass is unique in children’s literature in that it gives its readers the information about what is happening, and the tools with which to decipher that information, without becoming a lecture. Through Lyra and her journey, the reader is invited to think critically, and to draw the parallels between her world and our own. It guides its readers along, while still making them feel that their own opinions are valid. As a child, that feeling of being heard, of being given the opportunity to have a discussion and not a lesson, of being encouraged to question authority and form one’s own views, is all too rare. I was lucky in that I was raised in a family that believed in explaining it decisions, even when my sister and I were very young, and I recognized that same way of thinking in Philip Pullman’s storytelling.
It is these same reasons that make His Dark Materials such a masterpiece, that make it so hard to make an adaptation. Even under the best of circumstances, adaptions are hard to make— there are elements of books that don’t translate well into onscreen storytelling. When a book is as beloved and as controversial as Pullman’s that difficulty is twofold. Going into the HBO/BBC series adaptation, I had high hopes. Streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and HBO have been instrumental in making adaptations of books with more progressive or controversial themes, since they don’t require as great a mass approval as in-theater movies do in order to be considered successful. His Dark Materials, of course, is by its very nature controversial, and I had hoped that HBO would tackle the issues that the books do with the nuance and narrative that Pullman originally wrote.
Sadly, when I watched the pilot episode, I was rather disappointed. There was so much potential, so much space for the story to become more fully developed than it did in the ill fated movie. But it was not to be. The first episode managed to be both the kind of storytelling that has you checking to see how much longer is left, and the kind that feels incredibly rushed. Unpopular opinion: I thought the movie, for all its issues, was much better. The first mistake the HBO show made was in stretching itself too thin, trying to cram in too many moments and references from the books without stopping to create an environment in which its watchers could really get to know the characters (especially since several fairly major changes were made to said characters). The result was that there was no emotional connection to the characters, or really much between the characters themselves. In the books, Lyra has a thriving community of other young miscreants that run around making alliances and having wars in the river mud, and she has a somewhat unorthadox sort of family in the scholars and staff of Jordan College. In the books Lyra has a home there, and people she cares for, which is one of the main reasons that she goes on the journey she does in the first place. Those relationships we see in the early chapters serve as an anchor for Lyra and her story, and with the trivialization or elimination of those relationships, I am afraid that the story as a whole will suffer as it goes forwards.
In addition, in the movie at least, even if it deviates from the book quite a bit more than the show does in its early stages, the characters felt intrinsically right. In both adaptations Lyra is shown as the sort of wild child that runs around getting into trouble and causing mischief, but the movie’s Lyra was far truer in spirit to her book counterpart. The movie’s Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) captured the beloved character’s fierce independence, her curiosity and creativity, and her magnetic personality that makes her a leader of other children in Oxford, and later at Bolvangar. While there was nothing exactly wrong with the show’s Lyra (Dafne Keen) she is a bit off. Maybe it is because she is portrayed as a bit more clingy towards her uncle. Maybe it is because we don’t see her having the kind of adventures that we do in the books and the movie. Maybe it is simply because there is a bigger emotional disconnect in the show. Whatever the reason, HBO’s Lyra just doesn’t quite have that quality that makes you instantly root for her, and it unmoors the entire story.
The other issues I had with it are perhaps more nitpicky, the CGI wasn’t great, the messages that are woven into the narrative of the book are, in the show, shoved in your face (a flaw the movie shares), but still, it could be worse. Critics who have access to further episodes say that it picks up around episode four, but when each episode is an hour long, that is quite a wait. It very well may be that His Dark Materials is just one of those fandoms that keeps getting its hopes raised and then crashed by a series of adaptations that just cannot compare to the original material. Regardless, if you haven’t read the books I urge you to do so, or if you’ve only read the original trilogy to take a look at the new books (they are still about Lyra, don’t worry) La Belle Savage, and The Secret Commonwealth.

Suggested Reading by Dave Connis

Clara’s entire life has been defined by books. She can count the changes in her life by the stories that caused them, and define her achievements by her role as a reader. So when on the first day of her senior year at Lupton Academy, she discovers that the school plans to ban a list of fifty books, many of which have changed her life, she is understandably angry. Said anger grows when the school librarian tells her that this is not the first time, and that the school will simply make the books disappear from the shelves without telling the students. So Clara does what any bookworm worth her salt would do: convinces the librarian to let her deal with the books (technically she tells him that she will redistribute the “bannies” to little libraries in the area, but you know, details). And then she starts up an underground library (UnLib) in her locker.
UnLib takes off in ways she wasn’t expecting; in ways that a southern girl just trying to get through her senior year is definitely not prepared for. Soon enough she is meeting patrons of her library every day, between every class, in every free period, even giving up her lunch just to keep the UnLib functioning. And as the UnLib starts to draw new people into her orbit, people she has barely spoken to, like the resident rich kid clique the star-stars, her best friend and Student President LiQui’s Student Cabinet (StuCab) and even the very adults trying to ban her beloved books, Clara finds her world changing in ways she never could have anticipated. Not all are bad though, and Clara soon finds herself making friendships that she never would have thought possible, and learning, along with the rest of her school, just how much books really can change you— for better and for worse.
In the end, Suggested Reading is about understanding. It is about how we make assumptions and interpretations of things and people based on our own limited knowledge, and how the conclusions we draw are not always right, or the same ones that somebody else, somebody with a different history and perspective might in our place. It is about accepting those differences and using them to create discussion and narratives that expand our own understanding of the world, and how books influence us.

A Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

Haidee and Arjun live in a land of perpetual light. Haidee, daughter of the goddess-queen of the golden city, is expected to take her mother’s place when she is old enough. She is expected to wed and have daughters and rule and, in the meantime, obey. But Haidee knows there is a better way to rule than her mother’s method of shutting out everyone but their own and hoarding their world’s swiftly dwindling resources for their city alone. She also knows that the answers to her questions about what happened to her world and how she can fix it, lie in her family’s past. But her mother is cagey about her past, and refuses to tell Haidee what happened the day the world split in half, much less what befell the sister and father she never knew. So, Haidee does the responsible, sensible thing: runs off on her own, without telling anyone, looking for the end of the world.
Arjun belongs to one of the nomadic groups that sprung up in the wake of the world’s Breaking, salvaging and scavenging what they can to survive. He has no love of the goddesses who tore their world apart, but when he meets Haidee, things get a bit more complicated. It’s easy to hate a goddess responsible for his family’s struggle. It is less easy to hate a rainbow-haired girl who makes friends with dolugongs, and who is terrible at making sensible plans but incredible with machinery. She is smart and strange and he has no idea how she is still alive, but they are traveling together now and are, if only grudgingly, friends. So as near as he can figure out, it is more or less his duty to keep her that way.
Odessa and Tianlan live shrouded in shadow, their dying city caught between the danger of the icy sea and the ravenous creatures within on one side, and the treacherous and uncharted wildlands on the other. Tianlan of the Catseye, former ranger of the wildlands, never wants to return to the place that killed her friends. Unfortunately, when monsters not seen in decades appear at the shore and speak to the Princess Odessa, Asteria, the queen, sends Lan and a ship full of other powerful spellcasters to find the Rift where the world broke— and find a way to fix it. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Odessa, intent on following the monsters who spoke to her of powers beyond imagining and the trials she must face to gain them, sneaks aboard.
As the four teens draw closer to each other and the Rift, danger grows. Dark things lurk in the past of Odessa and Haidee’s family, and soon both princesses will need to take terrible steps to protect those they love.
I went into this book with high expectations. I have read Rin Chupeco’s other books and loved all of them. A Never Tilting World did not disappoint me. Chupeco is an expert at the first person narrative, which can too easily become tiresome to read, and all four characters have a distinct voice and personality that work well with the story. The world is stark and colorful and unique, while still managing to invoke farmiliar fears of dwindling resources and uninhabitable homelands that are all too real in our world. I highly recommend A Never Tilting World to anyone who loves fantasy with vast magical powers, monsters, dystopias and grand romances.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

When BeiTech, a powerful corporation in a futuristic, space traversing society, attacked an illegal mining colony run by one of their competitors, the lives of the colonists were irrevocably destroyed. Thousands died, and those who managed to escape are being pursued by the remainder of their attackers, who plan to destroy any who might reveal the atrocities they commited. Kady and Ezra, newly exes, were finishing high school when the attack came. They lost everything that day, and now, licking their wounds, are pursued by the very people who tried to kill them the first time, all they have left is each other.
Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman’s Illuminae is not like anything I’ve ever read. In fairness, I don’t read much in the way of space operas, so I may simply not have much to compare it to. The genre is generally too overpopulated for my tastes with leather-clad protagonists (you’d think styles would have changed in a few centuries) shooting blasters at a strangely uniformly humanoid collection of aliens (seriously, can we get, like, a highly evolved society of blue space bats that communicate using bioluminescence? Or just something instead of green humans? Thanks.)
But while Illuminae does employ many of the genre’s tropes, it does so in a unique way. Giant spaceships? Sure, but not all of them are battlecruisers or have guns (I mean… some of them are.) Ability to do jumps from one place to another within the galaxy? Of course! But only the huge, expensive ships have the technology to make them. Hot, intelligent hero on a mission, accompanied by an equally hot sharpshooter with a dark past? Check! But she isn’t particularly interested in the greater good (I mean, she is a bit, she is the hero after all…) and her love interest is less tall dark and broody than he is a loveable doofus with the texting grammar and etiquette of every teenager in your contacts.
Illuminae combines sci-fi and horror in an addicting story told not in the traditional methods of storytelling, but in a hodgepodge compilation of stolen documents. Everything from ship’s logs, to casualty reports, to text messages, are employed to tell the tale. The result is a riveting book that, despite depriving the reader of a deeper understanding of the characters’ states of mind, allows for a wider picture of the situation. The inclusion of official documents and communications gives the reader a sense that the book chronicles real events, and the text messages between the two main characters, Kady and Ezra, endears the protagonists to the reader and thus makes us care when they and others are in danger. I highly recommend this book, and urge you to get it as a hardcopy. I think any other format just couldn’t do it justice.

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

The apocalypse starts at Starbucks. Because of course it does. Elena Mendoza has never been normal. She was born through a virgin birth (proved by a scientist to be the only example of an asexual form of reproduction called parthenogenesis) so depending on who you ask she’s either a miracle or an anomaly. On top of that she has heard inanimate objects speak to her since she was a child. But things really start to get strange when Frankie— the girl she’s had a crush on for literally years— is shot right in front of her, and the Starbucks Siren tells Elena to heal her.
But when Elena does the boy who shot Frankie (and dozens of others across the world) are raptured away in a beam of golden light. From there the book is a wacky rollercoaster of satirical humor, world-altering choices and just a little bit of existential crisis. From cover to cover, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is a hilarious read that has something for everyone.