Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Duel at Araluen (Royal Ranger #3)

Aaah. Another Royal Ranger book! I love these SOOOOO much, and I am not alone. Blogger Julia Tomiak has a great post on why SHE loves the Ranger's Apprentice books, and I agree with everything she has said!

At Kidlitcon, someone said that the reason WWII is more appealing to write and read about than other military conflicts is that it has very clear cut bad guys and good guys. I think the same can be said about The Ranger's Apprentive. Not only are the Araluens and Skandians fighting on the side of right, but they are just good people. They are nice to their horses, they treat their soldiers well, they give women equal opportunities. The Red Fox Clan is NOT good. They are also clumsily stupid, mean, and only clever enough to make them worthy opponents.

I don't normally like reading about fighting and violence, but reading these books is sort of like... hitting pillows when you are angry. It releases tension and makes you feel better, somehow. Given the state of the world today, it's a relief to retreat to this world and bash the Red Fox Clan around a bit!

Flanagan, John. Duel at Araluen (Royal Ranger #3)
May 28th 2019 by Philomel Books (first published 2018)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When We last saw Maddie and Cassandra, things were bad. Dimon, former palace guard chief, had assembled a rag tag bunch of men angry about the fact that Cassandra might soon be heir to the throne, and they were besieging the castle. The king, Cassandra, Maddie, and many others loyal to the crown managed to barricade themselves in a tower. Sir Horace and Ranger Commandant Gilan are in the north, having been lured there to get them away from the castle. Maddie comes up with a good idea-- hunt down the Skandians, who had some issues with one of their boats, and get them to help Horace's men, so they could get back to the palace. Having discovered tunnels under the palace, Maddie is able to sneak away, find her father, locate the Skandians (who are always up for a good battle!), and start to deal with the Red Fox Clan. Maddie is successful, and Cassandra manages to hold off Dimon's men in very clever ways, including setting fire to their newly built trebuchet! Dimon is not a good commander, so when the stakes get tough, his men start to desert him. The casualties were high in the fight with Horace, so the Araluens are able to deal with Dimon fairly easily.
Strengths: *Sigh* Along with bashing bad guys, there's good cups of coffee by the fireside, humor, and Cassandra giving Dimon a run for his money with her sword fighting. The plot moves along quickly, and there are lots of great scenes with flaming pig bladders.
Weaknesses: We only see Will at the end. And I feel sorry for Maddie. No romance for her, because there is no one her own age. Let's introduce her to some young, new rangers, shall we?
What I really think: I don't like long series; this is the notable exception, along with Alex Rider. Mr. Flanagan can come out with two books a year for as long as he might want.

Riccio, Christine. Again, But Better
May 7th 2019 by Wednesday Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Shane is halfway through her junior year in college in 2011, and she's not happy. Stuck in a premed major her parents have forced upon her, she has no social life and is unable to follow her real passion, writing. She applies to a study abroad program in London, lies to her parents about having a medical internship, and heads off for adventure. It's a huge improvement over her old, never-been-kissed life. She makes good friends with her roommates, meets cute boys, and heads off to Rome for a weekend right away. Her internship at Packed! For Travel! starts off brilliantly with her boss being impressed with her blog and giving her an article to write. The travel, hanging out, and romance all tick along, although there is a wrinkle when she finds out that her crush, Pilot, already has a girlfriend. Still, there's lots to do, and pubs to visit, and Shane knows that she has made a good choice. However, when her parents visit unexpectedly and her cover is blown, they are furious. Her father refuses to spend big bucks so that she can be an unemployed writer, and makes her return home immediately. We catch up with her in 2017, when she has finished medical school and is ready for her residency, but still regrets the past. She meets up with Pilot, and the two get stuck in an elevator... that takes them back to London in 2011. Shane has the chance to do everything all over again. She and Pilot decide they should be together, since Shane is tired of Amy in 2017, but their relationship causes other wrinkle, like messing up her writing internship. Shane gets a chance to reboot her life and make different choices, but it's hard to tell when one seemingly small change might change everything... and not for the better.

As with any time travel book, the time travel mechanism is important, and I did like the omnipresent barista who ended up overseeing Shane's life, and the elevator that takes Shane and Pilot back in time. Haven't we all suspected elevators can do that? It's interesting to see two people who know what the future brings trying to navigate the world with that knowledge in mind, and they both have slightly different visions for what 2017 should become.

The details about studying abroad in London are what makes this really worth reading. Travel, dorms, even shopping for groceries at Tesco are all things that would have been completely enthralling to me when I was in high school or early college. It's even better that Shane is happy about being in London, since too many books involving foreign exchanges are a bit whiny.

As an adult who understands Shane's father's reluctance to pay big bucks for a creative writing degree, I found it a bit hard to understand why Shane was unhappy in 2017. She'd made it through the hard part of medical school, she had a serious boyfriend, and we can assume her parents are happy with her. She wants to throw this all away to go back to Pilot, who wants to be a musician? Not quite getting this situation, but certainly can understand wanting to go back and change the past!

Readers who loved the time travel in Mlynowski's Gimme a Call or Asher's The Future of Us, and who want a college aged protagonist who just wants to be kissed and have a beer or two at a pub will enjoy Again, But Better. Maybe it will even help them get their life right the first time around, since we really aren't given second chances!

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